Privilege doesn't mean you don't suffer
December 29, 2014 1:39 PM   Subscribe

On Nerd Entitlement: an essay by Laurie Penny in the New Statesman, responding to a discussion on Scott Aaronson's blog about sexism in STEM fields and nerd culture.
posted by prize bull octorok (670 comments total) 157 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was going to post this; glad somebody else did. Worth linking directly to the comment by Amy that Aaronson is responding to. Further discussion at the blog of combinatorist Gil Kalai, who also appears in the linked comment thread.
posted by escabeche at 1:51 PM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Personally, I think she lets Aaronson off way too easily. The point where I was amazed at his lack of self-awareness was this:

(sigh) Here’s the thing: I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. 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.

It amazes me how people who try to claim that they are "enlightened" can never grasp how dehumanizing and privileged their own views are. Note that he demands to be given bright lines, so that he doesn't need to make the effort to actually get to know people, or to pay attention to how they react to him. And yet he never considers that he has the problem, or that he could be just as privileged as the "neanderthals" he derides.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:09 PM on December 29, 2014 [103 favorites]


A really great essay, both incisive and compassionate.
posted by zompist at 2:09 PM on December 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


Well, there sure are a lot of histrionic men in that discussion.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:13 PM on December 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


Speaking as someone who grew up a shy white male nerd, I thought the piece was outstanding. I hope Aaronson reads it with the same care and thoughtfulness that was taken to write it.
posted by dfan at 2:14 PM on December 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year.

I mean... that's pathology. The solution is therapy, not fewer sexual harassment seminars.
posted by Jahaza at 2:15 PM on December 29, 2014 [56 favorites]


(And you ask me, where were those girls when you were growing up? And I answer: we were terrified, just like you, and ashamed, just like you, and waiting for someone to take pity on our lonely abject pubescence, hungry to be touched. But you did not see us there. We were told repeatedly, we ugly, shy nerdy girls, that we were not even worthy of the category "woman". It wasn't just that we were too shy to approach anyone, although we were; it was that we knew if we did we'd be called crazy. And if we actually got the sex we craved? (because some boys who were too proud to be seen with us in public were happy to fuck us in private and brag about it later) . . . then we would be sluts, even more pitiable and abject. Aaronson was taught to fear being a creep and an objectifier if he asked; I was taught to fear being a whore or a loser if I answered, never mind asked myself. Sex isn't an achievement for a young girl. It's something we're supposed to embody so other people can consume us, and if we fail at that, what are we even for?)

Damn, she's good. It's really good to hear someone say out loud that socially awkward, nerdy people are not only male, and never have been.
posted by rtha at 2:24 PM on December 29, 2014 [199 favorites]


I mean... that's pathology. The solution is therapy, not fewer sexual harassment seminars.

Uh, assuming he's telling the truth, why would the structure of the seminar itself not be pathological?
posted by smidgen at 2:28 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Note that he demands to be given bright lines, so that he doesn't need to make the effort to actually get to know people, or to pay attention to how they react to him.

Not only that, but he also reveals title of his blog comes from his wishing that he lived in a time and a place where someone would just set him up with a wife already and he didn't have to deal with things like trying to figure out how to interact with women.

And he blames it all on "feminism" for making him scared that he might be accused of sexual harassment if he ever tries to flirt with a woman. Jahaza has it right:

I mean... that's pathology.

posted by damayanti at 2:29 PM on December 29, 2014 [33 favorites]


Personally, I think she lets Aaronson off way too easily.

Personally, I think Laurie Penny's essay needs to be transmitted as far and wide as possible, for this reason: she doesn't deny or pathologize Scott's experiences. She properly contextualizes them as additional manifestations of the damage patriarchy does to men AND women.

She doesn't demean him for a lack of self-awareness, she right of the bat strikes a parallel to her own personal experience and adds the critical information that ON TOP OF her nerdy-adolescent pain and suffering, she continues to experience misogyny on a frequent basis.

Her essay was the most thorough take-down of misperceived nerd-"privilege" that I've ever read, and it does so neither by saying that Scott's experience and views are "dehumanizing" or a "pathology."

This world needs to hear more from Laurie Penny and less from, for example, NoxAeternum and Jahaza.
posted by chimaera at 2:33 PM on December 29, 2014 [75 favorites]


Uh, assuming he's telling the truth, why would the structure of the seminar itself not be pathological?

Because the problem is that he's demanding a set of bright lines, so he doesn't have to actually interact with people, and gauge their reactions to his conduct. He wants to interact with the opposite sex, but without all that heavy lifting of actual interaction. And when he gets told "that's not how human interaction works", he views it as discrimination rather than a skill he needs to work on.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:35 PM on December 29, 2014 [53 favorites]


And this, for me, is the root and tragedy both of nerd entitlement and the disaster of heterosexuality.

Look, say what you want about NE & the DOH, but they recorded some killer albums in the 80s.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:40 PM on December 29, 2014 [33 favorites]


What he said is what you quoted, which is he was given a set of negatives and asked for examples of positive interactions -- and none were forthcoming. I suppose that is a "bright line", but it *was* a sexual harassment seminar -- the whole reason it exists is that men (in a generalized sense) have no clue. When you tell someone who legitimately asks to "just figure it out" because you feel like you shouldn't have to explain these things, you are undermining the purpose of the seminar.
posted by smidgen at 2:44 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


This was a good essay. She's brilliant, and I should like to subscribe to her newsletter.

NoxAeternum:
Personally, I think she lets Aaronson off way too easily.

I do agree with that single critique of the essay.

Blind, blitheringly ignorant entitlement is the reason I don't identify as a nerd, despite a truly magnificent proficiency with Dungeons & Dragons. Male nerd culture is all about it. The fantasy is *always* that everybody else needs to stop and take a minute and acknowledge how special they are, and give them a bunch of free stuff. Romance, wealth, etc.

I escaped the hell that was being a social outcast simply by realizing that nobody was going to do that - and more than that, they shouldn't. I realized I was the odd man out, and that if I wanted friends or girlfriends, I had to be the one to bridge the gap. Maybe listen rather than talk, maybe acknowledge that intellectual superiority wasn't moral superiority.

It was a revelation. I left high school a popular kid, all without changing my interests or hobbies or most of my day-to-day. I never had to learn how to shoot a basketball or anything - all I had to do was not be a fucking child, like Aaronson.

So yeah. She's too easy on him.

Also, this is disgusting:
"But I suspect the thought that being a nerdy male might not make me “privileged”—that it might even have put me into one of society’s least privileged classes—is completely alien to your way of seeing things."

When I was a smart young man, adults could never stop talking about it. Never stop trying to teach me chess, or tell me I'd be running the joint - negative social pressure came from my peer group. And, frankly, it was from the guys - girls were almost uniformly polite.

My sister, who is every bit as smart as I am but more inclined toward practical skills, just got "Why can't you be more like your brother?" So she got it from the teachers, the boys *and* the other girls.

He's a whiny little shit, and I expect being good at manly arts like football wouldn't have fixed it for him.

Upon preview:
Her essay was the most thorough take-down of misperceived nerd-"privilege" that I've ever read, and it does so neither by saying that Scott's experience and views are "dehumanizing" or a "pathology."

This world needs to hear more from Laurie Penny and less from, for example, NoxAeternum and Jahaza.


The world's got room for both. It's wonderful that Laurie Penny can retain so much compassion, but Aaronson is still an asshat, and he's still blind to it. We don't all have to be polite about it - better that we're all honest about how we feel about his horrible viewpoint, and why.

@second preview:
Look, say what you want about NE & the DOH, but they recorded some killer albums in the 80s.

Yeah, but they still deserved some nails under their tires, maybe a megaphone wielding crazy at their London shows.
posted by mordax at 2:44 PM on December 29, 2014 [45 favorites]


omfg. OMFG!
Women generally don't get to think of men as less than human, not because we're inherently better people, not because our magical feminine energy makes us more empathetic, but because patriarchy doesn't let us. We're really not allowed to just not consider men's feelings, or to suppose for an instant that a man's main or only relevance to us might be his prospects as a sexual partner. That's just not the way this culture expects us to think about men. Men get to be whole people at all times. Women get to be objects, or symbols, or alluring aliens whose responses you have to game to "get" what you want.
The hair on the back of my neck is standing up! I want to get up on a table in a public place and start reading this through a bullhorn. I don't even want to glance at the piece she's responding to because I don't really want to get my rage on today, but her response is simply divine -- probably the best explanation I've ever read of exactly why I'm a feminist: because I want women to be treated like whole people, not objects or symbols or tokens or game pieces.
...to a certain otherwise very intelligent sub-set of nerdy men, the category "woman" is defined primarily as "person who might or might not deny me sex, love and affection".

(And you ask me, where were those girls when you were growing up? And I answer: we were terrified, just like you, and ashamed, just like you, and waiting for someone to take pity on our lonely abject pubescence, hungry to be touched. But you did not see us there. We were told repeatedly, we ugly, shy nerdy girls, that we were not even worthy of the category "woman". It wasn't just that we were too shy to approach anyone, although we were; it was that we knew if we did we'd be called crazy. And if we actually got the sex we craved? (because some boys who were too proud to be seen with us in public were happy to fuck us in private and brag about it later) . . . then we would be sluts, even more pitiable and abject. Aaronson was taught to fear being a creep and an objectifier if he asked; I was taught to fear being a whore or a loser if I answered, never mind asked myself. Sex isn't an achievement for a young girl. It's something we're supposed to embody so other people can consume us, and if we fail at that, what are we even for?)
SO MUCH THIS. It's seriously goddamn annoying to live in a world that tells you you're basically indistinguishable from Sex Itself for no other reason than because you appear to display one or more characteristics that could reliably indicate your sex is female when you're really just a deeply awkward, unattractive nerd that dudes won't even touch unless you agree to swear the entire experience to eternal secrecy because they'd just be so embarrassed if anyone else knew that they'd fucked you. (C'mon, you understand! And it's not like you have the looks to be too picky, anyway!)

Not just yes but hell yes to the entire essay. Thanks for posting, pbo.
posted by divined by radio at 2:45 PM on December 29, 2014 [114 favorites]


A bit left field - but male-nerd victim complexes strike me as oddly similar to the pro-Israeli nationalism I hear from my Russian-Jewish family. In both cases, within a few decades a group rockets from persecuted (granted, one WAY MORE than the other) to top-of-the-pyramid/privileged/weaponized. For those who grew up on one side of the divide, no amount of present-tense power and dominance is going to silence the traumatized and aggrieved inner child. Perhaps when either of the demographics enroll in therapy, energetically and en masse, things can move forward..
posted by tempythethird at 2:48 PM on December 29, 2014 [17 favorites]


The world's got room for both. It's wonderful that Laurie Penny can retain so much compassion, but Aaronson is still an asshat, and he's still blind to it.

The whole reason that the dialog tends toward toxic is because there's not enough people who bother retaining compassion for their interlocutors. The world's got enough people without compassion, thank you very much. I stand by what I said.
posted by chimaera at 2:48 PM on December 29, 2014 [19 favorites]


It is pretty difficult for people in pain to focus on things outside of their pain, let alone to focus on things which (are perceived to) deny that pain. It's still on Aaronson to "figure it out" in the end, but I recall the Bad Ol' Days when I viewed things similarly to him, and until I found some way to come to terms with my own pain and history of social suffering, it was basically impossible to not reference my own unresolved issues as the foundation of how to understand Society and gender relations. I would likely not have become a feminist without a lot of therapy working out my own issues.

Laurie Penny, though, is a goddamn treasure. She approaches this issue, and Aaronson's personal account, with an unbelievable amount of empathy and patience, and much nuance too.
posted by obliterati at 2:49 PM on December 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


Excellent article, one thing that I've come to understand as i've dove into the realm of understanding structures of privilege is that very few of us want to accept that despite our formative years being hell there is a very real likelihood that someone out there has had it worse. I think once we get past the idea of suffering somehow being noble and that we are in some sort of competition to outsuffer other people we can take what suffering we've experienced in our lives and use it to form genuine compassion and empathy for other individuals. This writer is essentially saying that yeah your suffering under a patriarchal system sucked as did mine but rather than erase your suffering I'm going to say that shared understanding and compassion is the way forward because it's the very systems that are in place that are making life a hell for everyone (even the most alpha bro).

Once you get past the idea that past suffering trumps other people's suffering you can start actually working on deconstructing the very structures that cause that suffering. Way too many smart guys are still basically getting stuck in the cycle of being victimized to really realize that the way forward is not to return to a fictionalized reality where access to women was pretty much institutionalized but to a future where all sorts of disadvantaged groups are capable of deciding for themselves what path to chart through life.
posted by vuron at 2:50 PM on December 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


Bet Aaronson wishes he'd just said nothing at all, now.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:53 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I found it to be a lot longer than needed, but after reading the comments its because I wouldn't have spent all that time honoring his experience.

I was recently rereading dischordia. On my first read I found it weird that when it came to describing the experience of women in Athens during the height of the crisis, she focused on herself and Molly Crabapple. It felt a little misguided because doing so accidentally removed a greek female voice from the story. On the reread I came to understand that she couldn't speak personally as an immigrant so she talked about others. She could speak first hand as a woman, so she did. She's a good writer.
posted by lownote at 2:53 PM on December 29, 2014


Thank you for posting this.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:54 PM on December 29, 2014


Unfortunately, S-eMM, probably not.

Probably he's thinking "jeez I was honest about my feelings and now I'm just being attacked! I was right all along!"

Hopefully he will learn and take Penny's words to heart but I very much doubt it.

Also, thanks for posting this. It's really made me examine my own high school experience with a fresh set of eyes.
posted by Tevin at 2:56 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


The way I see it, thinking that Aaronson won't possibly learn anything from this article means that it was a waste of time for Penny to write it. I would like to give them both more credit than that.
posted by dfan at 2:58 PM on December 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


. I left high school a popular kid, all without changing my interests or hobbies or most of my day-to-day. I never had to learn how to shoot a basketball or anything - all I had to do was not be a fucking child, like Aaronson.

Be wary when strangers show up offering simple solutions. Because most likely, they do not know what the hell they are talking about.

I know this is going to come as a shock -- but sometimes people won't accept you no matter what you do. You were lucky.
posted by smidgen at 2:59 PM on December 29, 2014 [17 favorites]


The whole reason that the dialog tends toward toxic is because there's not enough people who bother retaining compassion for their interlocutors. The world's got enough people without compassion, thank you very much. I stand by what I said.

Well my view is different than NoxAeternum's (and Laurie Penny's) and I don't see how it lacks compassion for Aaronson. He describes crippling anxiety and goes so far as to ask a psychiatrist about the possibility of chemical castration. When people are dealing with mental illness (and I been there myself), the compassionate thing is to acknowledge the problem and deal with it.
posted by Jahaza at 2:59 PM on December 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


Yeah -- this is a great article. At this point, too, hearing white dudes (like me!) say things like "Well, I don't like the concept of male privilege[1] because my life wasn't perfect!" kinda makes me wanna slam their heads against the table. It's just something that I tend to go "jeez, aren't we over this yet? don't you idiots have a goddamn dictionary?[2]" The response I've always liked is "Yes, but you didn't have a non-perfect life BECAUSE you were a white male". Because... yeah. Some women/PoC have had perfect lives (well, probably not)! And that's awesome! And maybe they've never ever had any experiences otherwise -- BUT I'd wager that more non-perfect aspects are BECAUSE of sexism/racism than the White Male has. And the few times that are, aren't really on the same level.

For instance, I was once up for an award, and (it was claimed by a few people -- I never followed up, so that MAY have been true but honestly I think the folks who did win... deserved it more? Shock!) I didn't get it because they wanted more diversity. Which, you know, I suppose does suck for ME... but, on the list of injustices in the world "me not getting an award that I didn't care about either way and thought the folks who did get it were very much deserving anyway" pales in comparison to "I get paid 70 cents on the dollar" or "Cops harass and kill people who look like me".

THAT is privilege.


[1] In typing this I did say to myself "I hate this word", but only because I can never remember how to spell the damn thing.
[2] To be fair, perhaps their problem is that they can't fucking spell it either.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 3:01 PM on December 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


And yet he never considers that he has the problem, or that he could be just as privileged as the "neanderthals" he derides.

I might also argue Aaronson hasn't reached full enlightenment or whatever, but there is simply no reasonable reading of his comment that suggests he has *never considered* that he has the problem.
posted by weston at 3:01 PM on December 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


The whole reason that the dialog tends toward toxic is because there's not enough people who bother retaining compassion for their interlocutors. The world's got enough people without compassion, thank you very much. I stand by what I said.

So, at what point do you hold someone responsible for their own choices? I don't see how it's compassionate to constantly avoid pointing out that this person Has A Problem.

As I've pointed out in prior threads, I've been where guys like Aaronson are, and it took some hard introspection to realize what I had wrong. And you know what? It's not that difficult to understand - you just need to accept that you have to work at communication, and watch how people respond. And there are people who genuinely struggle with understanding that, and those are the people who need help and understanding.

But there are people who have decided that the problem lies anywhere but with them. And for those folks, my patience is just about used up.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:02 PM on December 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


I think ultimately people are very confused about the word "privileged." On one side of the extreme are people who believe it means that life is perfect and great and since their life wasn't that way, they must not really have been privileged. On the other side on places like Tumblr it's used a bit like an insult.

Maybe it would help nerds understand it a little better if they viewed the concept of privilege kind of like Unix file privileges. A root user isn't a "better" user – it just has some abilities that other users don't. And just because a user has group privileges for some files doesn't mean they have root access.
posted by melissam at 3:02 PM on December 29, 2014 [44 favorites]


I think it's reasonable to consider that Penny didn't write the post for Aaronson, really, but for all the other people out there who agreed with him.
posted by suelac at 3:04 PM on December 29, 2014 [25 favorites]


It's a good essay, but she is way more generous with him than I would be.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:05 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Absolutely agree she lets him off way too easy, although i do get that "going easy" is maaaaaaybe the way to get heard by a few more people.(although i fear the real troglodyte gators will still find fault, and that sort of pandering is pointless)

Aaronson was taught to fear being a creep and an objectifier if he asked

What? i wasn't. This wasn't a narrative that came up until mid way through high school. I was implicitly and explicitly taught the whole "male is aggressor", and essentially milder versions of pua "bitch shield" type stuff that women aren't allowed to admit they want it and you have to be a Strong Alpha Male and all that jazz.

Creep didn't come in to the equation until i was like, most of the way to being a legal adult. I might have even had a job before that concept came up.

I am really fucking tired of this woe-is-me narrative by nerdy dudes about being "shamed" for wanting womens attention. That's a gator narrative. This victim playing shit cheeses me off, as a non neurotypical dude who was like radioactively nerdy/awkward/dorky/etc and constantly bullied and made fun of for it.

Men of the generation now shitting all over the internet were raised to act that way. There was a lot of encouragement. Even if i think back to being 14, there was no discussion of creeps and no one knew what the fuck an objectifier was. His side of this that she gives such a soft touch too comes off as "but I deserve attention TOO, this can't be ALL about those females! men have it bad too!!!!"

it's just more not-all-men garbage and she's giving it way too much benefit of the doubt. And yes, i realized it wasn't directed at him. But it's directed at the greater those-guys.
posted by emptythought at 3:06 PM on December 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


The last part of Amy's comment:

I find actually that this is a significant barrier to gender equity in STEM: the women tend to be far, far ahead of the men when it comes to reading in, discussion of, understanding of these issues. It’s tough to have a conversation when half the people in the conversation don’t have the requisite vocabulary.

When you read the other comments, you find, oh dear Lord, is she speaking the truth. The raised-hackles hostility of some of those guys, who don't even understand what feminism is or does but just see it as some sort of weird cult or personal attack, yikes. Too many STEM classes, not enough history/social studies maybe?
posted by emjaybee at 3:06 PM on December 29, 2014 [29 favorites]


I do think the word "privilege" throws a lot of people off. The actual concept would be better described by a phrase like "not suffering from one or more of various kinds of oppression". I can't see that catching on, though.
posted by uosuaq at 3:07 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Man, I read through Aaronson's blog comment. There's some serious polarized thinking going on. For him, it's either you're some kinda Don Draper alphabro or you're a celibate nerd. Either you're a feminist paragon or you're a weird, creepozoid stalker MRA. Either you're like *gasp* a woman, or a homosexual, or asexual or you're like some animal rage-lust brute!

There's no inbetween, no nuance, no gray, no room for the passage of time and the change that comes with being a flesh and blood squishy person. It even seeps into his preference for radical feminist literature like Dworkin. He says himself more boilerplate stuff doesn't appeal to him.

Why is the heck is that? I'm not a trained psychologist, but his black and white thinking is what I picked up immediately as I read his comment.
posted by FJT at 3:09 PM on December 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


all I had to do was not be a fucking child, like Aaronson.

All sympathy to the importance of growing up and to the idea of nerd entitlement, but in case you missed it: most everyone in high school is both a de facto and a de jure child. Holier-than-thous are unnecessary.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:09 PM on December 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


Note that he demands to be given bright lines, so that he doesn't need to make the effort to actually get to know people, or to pay attention to how they react to him.

I read that part less as Scott wanting bright lines, and more as him looking for constructive, positive examples, not just negative ones. Maybe this isn't much of a distinction. But I think you're framing him as wanting simple, unambiguous rules for interacting with people, which, yes, is not realistic. But reading Scott's comment, I get the feeling that if the seminar had included positive, non-harassment examples of flirting, with the message "sexual assault is very wrong; try stuff like this instead" then he would have left feeling far less paranoid and wretched. An additional message that there are never any bright lines and all people and situations are different, so there are exceptions to everything, and what we've told you today are just guidelines, would have gone down much easier in that case; because there would have been a common understanding that not all flirting is sexual assault, that he is not doomed, that there is a way out.

Of course I can't read his mind, but again I get the sense that he wasn't looking for a bright line between sexual assault and not, he was just looking for acknowledgement that there is in fact another side someplace, and if the boundaries are blurry, well, he could work with that.

This isn't a rhetorical question, by the way -- I think there's an urgent conversation to be had about why exactly we don't offer our kids positive examples (in this area especially, but also in others) more, instead of only warning them away from negative ones. The warning away from the negative is definitely vitally necessary, and it's better than nothing, but if you don't show a positive example too, then something is missing.

"A great silent collapse, an enormous unspoken disappointment, has in our time fallen on our Northern civilization. All previous ages have sweated and been crucified in an attempt to realize what is really the right life, what was really the good man. A definite part of the modern world has come beyond question to the conclusion that there is no answer to these questions, that the most that we can do is to set up a few notice-boards at places of obvious danger, to warn men, for instance, against drinking themselves to death, or ignoring the mere existence of their neighbours."

- G.K. Chesterton
posted by officer_fred at 3:09 PM on December 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


I don't believe it's difficult for people in pain to focus on things outside that pain. I think it may be more difficult for male people to focus on things outside of their own pain. I was a bullied female nerd, and when I developed some confidence, I was a bullied female "slut". I never turned around and did it to others, wishing to spare them what I was going through. I can immensely enjoy my guilt-free adulthood.

I think it may be more difficult for male nerds to empathize with others, and less difficult for female nerds to do so, by virtue of having more emphasis placed on our being understanding and sympathetic to every little plight boys go through, which is part of women's regular social conditioning. It pisses me off, because it's just one more area where I learned to do what was right due to not having everything handed to me like it was to my male peers. I was even told to focus less on math and science, while my male peers were encouraged to tutor me in those subjects.

Male nerds don't know from lack of entitlement. Being a female nerd has never come with any such luxury. As a young female nerd, we are shunned and rejected twice as much. First by the acceptedly cool kids, then again by our nerdy male peers. Which is why it's important to foster social situations for girls with STEM interests. The boy nerds at least have each other, but I feel young nerd girls still don't have much of that same camaraderie.
posted by JLovebomb at 3:11 PM on December 29, 2014 [50 favorites]


That said too, I think folks who are CURRENTLY in high school get a partial pass. Very much about understanding some of these things is about growing up. (I am ashamed to admit it, but I had Nice Guy Tendencies at that age too. But I got better.)

For folks in high school, gentle correction is good. For grown-ass adults, get a goddamn clue.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 3:12 PM on December 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


Let's all talk about the importance of learning communication skills while we decide that castigation and "tough love" is a proper way to help an utterly confused person.
posted by smidgen at 3:16 PM on December 29, 2014 [18 favorites]


I think this essay, along the way, gets at something important that often goes underdiscussed, and that genuinely makes me glad I am not a heterosexual in this society.

Straight men especially, but I think straight women too, are taught that you can't get intimacy through normal human interactions. You're barely even getting it from humans. There's a prescribed set of mutually degrading rituals that happen, instead of, like, asking what each other want. With everything! Sex, kids, chores. Nothing is just about the thing it's about, it's always in the context of this totalizing gender norming. And even if you're aware of this socialization you have still been steeped in it since birth. You may disagree with the script but you're still fundamentally in reaction to it.

It resembles a kind of psychosis, viewed from the outside. It must be so desperately lonely. Let alone the cognitive dissonance of needing intimacy from an incomprehensible Other.

As I get older I really appreciate what a rare blessing it is not to have a script to lean on, to actually have to talk about and think about things with people. At least when we fight about housekeeping it's our fight, not the eternal sitcom war.
posted by PMdixon at 3:21 PM on December 29, 2014 [77 favorites]


Sharing open lines of communication and compassion is essential but it's also very important for influential gatekeepers for various "nerd" dominated communities to get a clue quick before they perpetuate the cycle for yet another generation. I feel like for STEM fields in particular this sort of pernicious cycle of victimhood on the part of the intellectual alpha nerd which often basically tries to keep the intellectual realm as a boyzone because otherwise it'll drag up too much emotional baggage for the intellectual researcher does need to be attacked because I feel like when you've achieved a certain degree of mastery in a field of endeavor that you can be rightly or wrongly considered to be a gatekeeper it's absolutely incumbent on you to set aside your high school trauma and not pull up the ladder behind you so that women and PoC can't get in behind you.

I see that all too often with "nerd" men that gain a degree of institutional power, they turn from victims to victimizers and that shit needs to stop.
posted by vuron at 3:26 PM on December 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


I particularly love Aaronson's suggestion that he would have been better off being born a woman or a gay man, because then he would have had nothing to worry about and could have devoted all his attention to math. Right. I'm glad Penny was able to take him seriously and respond kindly to him, because there's no way I could. I don't think there's any getting through to someone quit that self-indulgent and clueless, but more power to her for trying.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:28 PM on December 29, 2014 [33 favorites]


genuinely makes me glad I am not a heterosexual in this society.

So, is there a society that you are glad to be a heterosexual in? Cause, you shouldn't hold out on us like that.
posted by FJT at 3:29 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you've never been heterosexual in Svenborgian society you've never really lived.
posted by Tevin at 3:36 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Let's all talk about the importance of learning communication skills while we decide that castigation and "tough love" is a proper way to help an utterly confused person.

There's a vast difference between confusion and obstinance. And while he might have started at the former, it seems like he quickly transitioned to the latter. It's telling that his method of "understanding" feminism was to find prominent texts and treat them as holy writ, instead of looking to join the active conversation happening all over our society. And there's a hint of contempt in his discussing how all these men who had not devoted themselves to the proper study of feminism were having success using the sort of conduct that he, the man enlightened through study, had come to understand as wrong and base.

It seems very much like he knows the form and the letter well, but learned nothing of the spirit.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:36 PM on December 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


The actual concept would be better described by a phrase like "not suffering from one or more of various kinds of oppression".

It's not even that, because it's not binary and it's not all-or-nothing. I understand the desperation some people feel for the Bright Line, but it's not there. It's subtle and it moves and that's hard, but that's how it is. Expecting there to be rules that someone will tell you so that you never have to make a mistake is expecting a lifetime of disappointment and rage.
posted by rtha at 3:39 PM on December 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


If there's one thing to take away from Laurie Penny's essay, it's that people without empathy perpetuate the problem. Good post.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:42 PM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


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 can see this scenario playing out something like this:
SA wants to know something he can definitely say or do that is OK, at all times and under any circumstances:

SA: "Can I tell a woman she looks pretty?"
A: That could be harassment; it depends on the situation--"
SA : Can I ask a woman out?
A : "Depending on the circumstances, that might be unwelcome; you would have to be aware--"
SA : Can I say Hello??!
A: "In some situations, that could be unwelcome--"
at which point SA stops listening to the rest of the message--that it depends on context, tone, perception of others, how it is being received--and just thinks "I can't do ANYTHING!" He wants rules, not principles.
posted by librosegretti at 3:43 PM on December 29, 2014 [68 favorites]


I don't believe it's difficult for people in pain to focus on things outside that pain. I think it may be more difficult for male people to focus on things outside of their own pain.

I don't think these two things are mutually exclusive, and really it's more that they scaffold onto each other. What I mean is: I do strongly agree with the second part of what you said. I think a part of what causes that Laurie Penny points out -- it is hard for women to NOT consider men as Subjects, because you can't escape media which uses the male perspective as the default template for organizing experience; you just absorb by dint of its ubiquity. When you flip the genders, that is clearly not so much the case.

So I stand by my original point, while agreeing that it is 1) not impossible to step out of your own pain when you are going through it; and 2) it is way harder to do this if the culture around you never encourages you to do so, or even puts it forth as a worthwhile option, all because of your gender.
posted by obliterati at 3:46 PM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Personally, I think Laurie Penny's essay needs to be transmitted as far and wide as possible,

Me too. I came so close to forwarding this to a bunch of "nice" young dudes before deciding it had just enough profanity to possibly put too much strain on some of those relationships.

Entirely my problem, not Penny's, but feells like another sadly missed opportunity.
posted by straight at 3:48 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I left high school a popular kid, all without changing my interests or hobbies or most of my day-to-day. I never had to learn how to shoot a basketball or anything - all I had to do was not be a fucking child, like Aaronson.

Yeah, I am a little uneasy with the whole "the only reason the other kids pick on you is because you are a little shit who needs to grow up" framework, not least because that's how a lot of adults frame some pretty terrible bullying/abuse situations among children. Also because it has not been what I have observed when I've observed children - partly because children are human and can commit evil, partly because schools are structured in ways that produce in-groups and out-groups, which is one of the problems with schools.

On another note, learning not to blame myself for what happened to me as a kid - to stop framing it as "if I had been better the other kids would not have picked on me" - was something that I had to work on in therapy, and that my therapist basically had to cajole me into even considering. I had been told throughout my adolescence and young adulthood that the best way to "move on" from what had happened was to accept that I had been complicit and that people didn't like me because I was, as it were, a little shit.
posted by Frowner at 3:53 PM on December 29, 2014 [29 favorites]


But reading Scott's comment, I get the feeling that if the seminar had included positive, non-harassment examples of flirting, with the message "sexual assault is very wrong; try stuff like this instead" then he would have left feeling far less paranoid and wretched.

But it's a sexual-harassment seminar, not a dating class.
posted by jaguar at 3:57 PM on December 29, 2014 [56 favorites]


at which point SA stops listening to the rest of the message--that it depends on context, tone, perception of others, how it is being received--and just thinks "I can't do ANYTHING!" He wants rules, not principles.

... At which point the seminar organizers put on skits that show tones and contexts that are okay, and tones and contexts that are not okay, and discuss the differences, and young undergrad Scott comes away knowing a little more than he did before. But that didn't happen.

No one is asking for perfect precision; I think that's a bit of a strawman. What would be good is if the warnings against sexual assault were accompanied by constructive lessons on how to flirt correctly. Reading that back, I know it sounds weird and intrusive; it doesn't seem like it's our business to teach kids how to try to get with each other. They'll do that quickly enough on their own, lord knows, ha ha. But... I don't know. I worry that only focusing on what not to do is harmful, and contributes to slut-shaming and stuff like that. Wouldn't it be good to give kids some tentative guidelines (not bright lines) for what to do, as well?

But it's a sexual-harassment seminar, not a dating class.

Then have another seminar somewhere else, maybe. The point is that without a dating class, the only official message about sex is the bad side; STD's and harassment. Normal kids know there's another side to life besides what's official, and it doesn't bother them too much. They figure things out on their own. But nerds are much too respectful of what is said at the front of classrooms than anywhere else, and this could lead to them taking the official story too seriously. So maybe we need to make our official story more accurate and inclusive, for them.
posted by officer_fred at 3:59 PM on December 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


There's a vast difference between confusion and obstinance [...] It's telling that his method of "understanding" feminism was to find prominent texts and treat them as holy writ, instead of looking to join the active conversation happening all over our society

It's almost like a professor in a STEM field is used to thinking about rules and formulas, is it not?

And really, what does "join the active conversation" actually mean? Seriously, every time I hear that shit, it sounds so damn vapid. It's now a standard Web 3.0 advertising slogan for god's sake.

He wrote his feelings out for all to see -- is that not starting a conversation? Is that not inviting a discussion?

Again, we have people who want to have "conversations" with people who agree with them, and get irritated that people can't read their minds or don't understand/parrot the accepted ideas well enough. And I agree, he's clueless about things -- but just because someone doesn't understand, doesn't make them obstinate, it just makes them ignorant.

It seems very much like he knows the form and the letter well, but learned nothing of the spirit.

I would agree -- but yet you are insisting a a particular form and letter, are you not? What exact level of not understanding would you have been satisfied by?
posted by smidgen at 4:00 PM on December 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


The kid in elementary school with social capital can afford to take risks. If he or she gets stuck on the slide or wears a dumb outfit or whatever, people will laugh briefly. Whereas for the kid with no social capital, one embarrassing slip-up is going to result in a lot of bullying in the short term, and people are probably going to keep bringing it up for months and years, and they're even less cool than they were, compounding the effect in the future.

The uncool kid, obviously, is going to be prone to catastrophic thinking, imagining that a small social mistake is going to result in extreme ostracism and shame, even when that's no longer the case. I have a totally unjustified theory that this is part of what's going on with Aaronson. He seemed to be thinking that if he hit on a woman in a way that came off as even slightly creepy or inappropriate, everyone would shun him and he would be branded for life as a rapist. Hence the desperate desire for a brightline, as opposed to realizing that he would have plenty of opportunities to pull back and apologize for mistakes, and probably wouldn't make them more than once.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:00 PM on December 29, 2014 [39 favorites]


Outstanding. Superb writing and even better thinking and feeling. Thanks for posting this.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:02 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


An especially important line of reasoning now, given some recent and scary events that have misogyny at the core (gamer gate, of course, but I'm thinking more of the Elliot Rodger/Santa Barbara shooting last year). The author does a great job at acknowledging that both teenage misery and structural sexism exist, that they are not the same thing, but they both hurt like hell. And their effects stack.

As a female nerd who has experienced both (structural misogyny and the fact that kids are assholes to each other), this piece hits home. I would add that one of the major problems I face now, as a woman scientist, is trying to negotiate my own femininity. Fitting into the STEM world, as a woman, involves no little amount of posturing. There is a pressure to be "less feminine" and "more masculine". Not only is frustrating and stressful, in addition to the normal stresses of life as a research scientist, but it causes a lot of anxiety about gender identity (at least, for me). I think one of the major problems facing gender equality in STEM is understanding who STEM women are, and what it means to BE a woman in STEM (god, what does it "mean" to "be" a woman at all???).

Though I do really like this piece I cannot sign off without citing a couple of personal bugaboos:

1. Can people on the internet just write properly, please? I mean, in a featured piece like this, please don't have a sentence like this: "This is why Silicon Valley sexism." AAAARGH! Just write: "This is why THERE IS Silicon Valley sexism." We have a copula in the English language! Let's freaking use it!

2. Ditto with the fuck words. In comments, fine. Fucking use all the fuck words you fucking want. But used as emphasis in an otherwise thoughtful piece like this just leaves me cold.

3. Speaking of cold, why a shout-out to Frozen, the most trumped-up fake feminist film I've seen lately? We really need to "let it go" with all the Frozen worship. Seriously.
posted by k8bot at 4:04 PM on December 29, 2014 [20 favorites]


Hm -- I'd say there's a difference between that with bullying and with Niceguyism/&c. I was bullied a lot too -- and yeah, I'd say that 99-100% is Not Your Fault. To say otherwise is victim blaming. BUT too -- I think there's another step that's being made between this and what Aaronson's doing. (Perhaps it's "I have been hurt and I will hurt others", I don't know.) I think that while like... yeah, OK, childhood-through-teenagerhood is wicked hard -- I totally know that and experienced it first hand. And that there is that kind of "these are the rules that work in this situation" thing, and that desire to apply them to the real world. BUT I guess I lose sympathy when (and again, speaking of ADULTS here) after repeated attempts to apply those rules to the real world and having them fail/be called out/&c., you decide to double-down and say that those other people are wrong, and they're just trying to screw you over because High School or something.

It's that sort of thing that makes me think we're dealing with someone who needs to ultimately grow up, and at a certain point, it needs to stop being sugarcoated. Which of course, leads to a double-bind on the rest of us because:
a) If you continue to sugarcoat, they'll likely just go "oh, this isn't a big deal", BUT
b) If you say "LISTEN FUCKHEAD STOP BEING A FUCKHEAD", they'll likely just go "You're a jerk and someone I don't need to listen to!"

Which means, without some self-examination, no progress.... but, of course, too, the main part of "self-examination" is SELF.

Is there an answer? I don't know. Other than some people DO need to grow the fuck up. It's just that there's no real way to make them grow the fuck up than them DECIDING to. Other than I guess just shunning folks who haven't grown the fuck up and hope they figure it out. Urgh.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 4:11 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


And I don't know, maybe I've got that whole Righteous Fury Of The Conned here going on -- seeing as, like I said, I was bullied (and, honestly, did some bullying) AND had Nice Guy Thoughts[1] which I ended up realizing were keeping me down.

[1] Though with me it was all... thinking I was feminist without actually BEING feminist. So it was that insidous type of "Well, I'm all for equality BUTTTT" type of shit, rather than just "I'm all for equality fullstop." So I didn't buy into the Misandry Waaah! bullshit explictly, but a more stealthy kind of... Misandry Waaah! to be fully honest with myself.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 4:14 PM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm glad she wrote this because I would not have had the patience to do more than hope that this Aaronson dude stayed paralyzed of interacting with women forever just so that I don't have to deal with yet another dense as lead jackass who thinks knowing one area of academia has given him a set of universal rules that apply to human interaction with no layers of nuance.

Can people on the internet just write properly, please?

Language changes. If you would like to use a language with a lot of prescriptivist rules made up by dead old white men, there are many exciting dead languages to choose from. Feel free to use them instead of this "get off my lawn with your changing sentence structures and swears" sack of shit. Not all of us give a damn about a set of made up rules imposed on English to gatekeep against the marginalized groups who dare use a different vernacular over a fucking century ago.
posted by NoraReed at 4:15 PM on December 29, 2014 [40 favorites]


vogon_poet: The uncool kid, obviously, is going to be prone to catastrophic thinking, imagining that a small social mistake is going to result in extreme ostracism and shame, even when that's no longer the case. I have a totally unjustified theory that this is part of what's going on with Aaronson. He seemed to be thinking that if he hit on a woman in a way that came off as even slightly creepy or inappropriate, everyone would shun him and he would be branded for life as a rapist. Hence the desperate desire for a brightline, as opposed to realizing that he would have plenty of opportunities to pull back and apologize for mistakes, and probably wouldn't make them more than once.

As much as i understand the objections above to "grow the hell up", hoooo boy if there was ever a case where that should truly apply. I think i've given plenty of demonstration for the fact that i feel this, and can relate, but i just don't buy it if you're a grown ass adult. You SHOULD be made to challenge that thought process, not just spoon fed explanations that allow it to continue.

And, that said, having argued about this sort of thing fairly recently with guys a lot like this... i don't buy that being the explanation. I think it's more of a case of them thinking feminists are trying to paint them in to some catch 22 corner of gotchas where everything they do is wrong.

I would be fucking shocked if this guy wasn't at least seriously sympathetic, if not that he just outright believed a bunch of "feminists believe all male sexuality is evil" "sex drive = rape drive" sort of made up garbage.

This attitude isn't about being afraid of failure, it's about thinking you're smarter than the person you're talking to and being convinced of the conspiracy theory truth that they're trying to spring a trap on you.

It's way more tiresome, and way less sympathetic than you're thinking i bet.
posted by emptythought at 4:16 PM on December 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


also on the prescriptivism thing, holy shit, read one of the 4000 articles about that out there which outlines why it's BS before you repeat the same points ad naseum about how peoples writing doesn't meet your standards.

whether you intend to or not, it comes off as "i'm going to dismiss your message at least somewhat because of the way you presented it" which is just... no
posted by emptythought at 4:17 PM on December 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


I don't have to deal with yet another dense as lead jackass who thinks knowing one area of academia has given him a set of universal rules that apply to human interaction with no layers of nuance.

And yet, that is not at all what he wrote.
posted by smidgen at 4:19 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


But it's a sexual-harassment seminar, not a dating class.

Exactly. I'm so, so tired of the idea that it is just unacceptable not to give men every assistance in hitting on all the women all the time. Every single thread about sexual harassment here and elsewhere inevitably includes a bunch of 'but how will I ever get laid?!?!' whining from men and it's so pathetic. Maybe if men didn't think of women as being robots susceptible to cheat code hackery instead of being human beings they'd be able to relate to us as human beings who are not operated via up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-start nonsense.
posted by winna at 4:23 PM on December 29, 2014 [104 favorites]


This is why Silicon Valley is fucked up. Because it's built and run by some of the most privileged people in the world who are convinced that they are among the least.

Best and most succinct explanation of Silicon Valley tech culture I've yet read.
posted by naju at 4:23 PM on December 29, 2014 [27 favorites]


I'd just like to submit that this was the moment I gave up. I don't know who Scott Aaronson is, but I do have many decades of experience being a nerd and having crippling anxiety and found the linked comment from him to be a worthy attempt at articulating his early experience. That doesn't mean I or anyone else need or should agree with him about how the world is, but I cannot fathom how either the comment or the man could merit the overall utter dismissal and derision they have received.

I've been reading MetaFilter for over a decade and this place is just too nasty for me now. It's been a great run but I am an increasingly old man and must use my time better. So long.
posted by pace at 4:25 PM on December 29, 2014 [29 favorites]


kinda makes me wanna slam their heads against the table

As a white male should we ever meet IRL remind me to never speak to you about anything.
posted by MikeMc at 4:28 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's almost like a professor in a STEM field is used to thinking about rules and formulas, is it not?

Sorry, but that dog doesn't hunt. People are not programs nor algorithms, and just because you're in a field that deals with them doesn't give you carte blanche to act like people are.

(See: Sheldon Cooper, reasons to hate.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:31 PM on December 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


pace is kind of right. Many of you lack nuance, and you seem to take a certain joy in shitting on Aaronson. You praise Penny's piece while utterly rejecting its core of empathy and its spirit of dialog.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:31 PM on December 29, 2014 [41 favorites]


I get the feeling that if the seminar had included positive, non-harassment examples of flirting, with the message "sexual assault is very wrong; try stuff like this instead" then he would have left feeling far less paranoid and wretched.

Here is the problem that these man-children seem fundamentally incapable of understanding. There are no examples of positive, non-harassment flirting that can be universally taken, because it is dependent on motherfucking context. They need to accurately gauge the other person's level of interest, and yes, if she seems like she is not interested, they need to fuck off.

That is the part that they can't get, because they want the right combination, the A B B B A B combination that is going to magically break past the resistance of the girl who does not want them. They know they have very little to offer and they don't care, they want to make the woman as target want them anyway.
posted by corb at 4:36 PM on December 29, 2014 [69 favorites]


on postview, sorry winna, didn't mean to accidentally steal your analogy!
posted by corb at 4:37 PM on December 29, 2014


I'm glad someone can write empathetically about this kind of thing mostly because my cache of empathy is tapped the fuck out. If this was a video game with empathy and personal reserves of energy instead of mana and hit points, I'd be using spells that drain into the energy I need to use to deal with my own depression and mental health complications and to spend on people I actually know and love in order to react with compassion to people like Aaronson, and I'm already both personally drained from my own shit and completely fatigued of dealing with people like him. I'm glad someone is doing the work, because I don't have it in me, and I hope it reaches some of his ilk.
posted by NoraReed at 4:40 PM on December 29, 2014 [29 favorites]


Yeah, I am a little uneasy with the whole "the only reason the other kids pick on you is because you are a little shit who needs to grow up" framework, not least because that's how a lot of adults frame some pretty terrible bullying/abuse situations among children.

All right, what I said was contentious in a number of ways. Rather than being clever and stepping back, let me take five minutes and probably make it worse. ;)

Aaronson's essay produced a profound disgust in me because it is *literally* childish: he still refers to his peers as Neanderthals without irony. He yearns for the days when a woman would literally have no choice but to marry him. He claims to be an oppressed class in a time with US law enforcement doesn't even file paperwork on shooting black people.

It's shallow and self-centered in precisely the way that you would encounter in someone who is, frankly, not an adult. The rest of us aren't really people to him, and it shows.

I have known many people like that. Too many. As a nerdy boy, they were my cohort a long time. I know what it's like to talk to them, and it generally comes around to: they want stuff, and they don't really understand how to get it so they simply bludgeon everyone around them until we either comply or stop talking to them.

I apologize for leaping to the conclusion that he's like that, but... man. If it walks like a dick and talks like a dick, dealing with it is asking to be fucked, and the loathing it produces in me is visceral. Again, from life experience, not theorycraft.

That is the part that they can't get, because they want the right combination, the A B B B A B combination that is going to magically break past the resistance of the girl who does not want them. They know they have very little to offer and they don't care, they want to make the woman as target want them anyway.

That was my read on the seminar stuff too, corb.
posted by mordax at 4:41 PM on December 29, 2014 [33 favorites]


That is the part that they can't get, because they want the right combination, the A B B B A B combination that is going to magically break past the resistance of the girl who does not want them.

Of course they're not going to get very far. The right combination is up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start.
posted by Talez at 4:49 PM on December 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


Here is the problem that these man-children seem fundamentally incapable of understanding. There are no examples of positive, non-harassment flirting that can be universally taken, because it is dependent on motherfucking context. They need to accurately gauge the other person's level of interest, and yes, if she seems like she is not interested, they need to fuck off.

That is the part that they can't get, because they want the right combination, the A B B B A B combination that is going to magically break past the resistance of the girl who does not want them. They know they have very little to offer and they don't care, they want to make the woman as target want them anyway.


Well... that would all be part of it. That's what I'm talking about. One of the positive examples would be a guy approaching a girl, realizing she is not interested, and backing off quickly and gracefully. By "positive" or "successful" I don't mean "ending in sex;" I only mean "flirting without harassing." Knowing when you've been rejected and fucking off quickly is definitely part of that. Learning to sense the context, how to accurately gauge the other person's level of interest, and how to leave quickly and politely when it's clear they're not interested is the vast majority of what I'm asking for.

The key, the whole point, is the reassurance that you can approach people and get rejected without that necessarily being sexual harassment, if you are polite and respectful. That is almost the opposite of the awful PUA, girls-as-videogames ideology.

Um, so is that better? Or is that bad also?

(To add quickly, before the preview window closes: I really didn't make this clear enough above, and it probably did seem like I was asking for pickup tricks to be included in sexual harassment seminars. Which would really be horrifying. I'm sorry. Please take this post as a more clear articulation of what I was going for.)
posted by officer_fred at 4:55 PM on December 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


Yep, unfortunately a good deal of "nice guys" basically want to be able to memorize a cheat code book so they can Fus Ro Dah their way through life without getting into any situations where asking the cute female GRA out on a date might lead to -15 social reputation and a black mark on their career.

Unfortunately life doesn't have a cheat code book for social relationships despite the PUA negging approaching gaining popularity because we have way too many internal variables at work to make things like social interaction and sexual attraction something that can be distilled down into a formula book.
posted by vuron at 4:55 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


no no corb it is fine!

Someday we will have to play contra though because the code you used would not work. I will bring the dorites!
posted by winna at 4:56 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Of course they're not going to get very far. The right combination is up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start.

I don't want to be "that guy" but if if you're going to play two player Contra it's B, A, Select, Start
posted by MikeMc at 5:03 PM on December 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


To everyone who feels that their reserves of empathy are depleted in this topic and that the likes of Aaronson should simply "grow up":

There's nothing wrong with running out of fucks to give about a situation. Everyone is fighting a hard battle every day, and some things we simply don't have the reserves to muster giving a shit about, and that's OK.

However, I do encourage you to step back and not participate in the conversation, until the person sitting across from you looks more like a human than a monster.
posted by chimaera at 5:05 PM on December 29, 2014 [43 favorites]


corb: "[I was] consumed by desires that one couldn’t act on or even admit without running the risk of becoming an objectifier or a stalker or a harasser or some other creature of the darkness." 'Fucking off' is exactly what he did.

"At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs that would chemically castrate me". To a rather extreme degree.

And you're kind of proving his point; he talks about his desires and is immediately derided as an objectifier and PUA/Nice Guy scumbag.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:08 PM on December 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


However, I do encourage you to step back and not participate in the conversation, until the person sitting across from you looks more like a human than a monster.

I apologize for making my statement sweeping: I really only meant it for Aaronson, and let my temper get the better of me.

Nobody here deserves to feel lumped in. None of *you* are calling everybody Neanderthals, or complaining that women are not vending machines for sex. My comments were directed at people who believe that is all right, and I should have been clearer.

I stand by my assessment that he likely does deserve it, but not a single one of you does.

I will indeed step back from this thread, as my desire to punch SA has me less cogent than needed for a delicate topic.
posted by mordax at 5:09 PM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


And you're kind of proving his point; he talks about his desires and is immediately derided as an objectifier and PUA/Nice Guy scumbag.

well uh for what it's worth, that is not what i was getting at in any way with my post. i was saying he seems rather invested in painting himself as a victim of that sort of treatment which is, at best, very tiresome and something a lot of people participating here seem to have seen before more than once.

i see very little here calling him anything of that sort, but he frames himself as such and she follows on from it and acknowledges it thereby giving it legitimacy in her piece.

that's what got to me, at least.
posted by emptythought at 5:16 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


This attitude isn't about being afraid of failure, it's about thinking you're smarter than the person you're talking to and being convinced of the conspiracy theory truth that they're trying to spring a trap on you.

It's way more tiresome, and way less sympathetic than you're thinking i bet.


IDK later on in the post Aaronson says this:
I reminded myself, every day, that no, there’s no conspiracy to make the world a hell for shy male nerds. There are only individual women and men trying to play the cards they’re dealt, and the confluence of their interests sometimes leads to crappy outcomes. No woman “owes” male nerds anything; no woman deserves blame if she prefers the Neanderthals; everyone’s free choice demands respect.
I mean I think he gets that his former way of thinking was wrong, and even somewhat understood it at the time; getting mad at him for having once held (extremely common) shitty views that only resulted in him isolating himself seems strange. Perhaps I am misreading but I think some of his statements are written in the voice of his past self and not meant to express his current beliefs.

There is plenty to criticize in the second part of his post, where he stops talking about his past experiences. But I don't think he's still that kind of "Toxic Nice Guy", it's more that he believes that having to suffer through being that guy is a form of oppression. (And can't imagine that any other kind of person could have had the same experience, and is still so defensive about it that he can't even admit there's systemic sexism in his field.)
posted by vogon_poet at 5:17 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


The key, the whole point, is the reassurance that you can approach people and get rejected without that necessarily being sexual harassment, if you are polite and respectful.

I had to help give these kinds of talks/workshops a couple of times in grad school and I've sat through a ton more. Every one I've been present for was presented in this way, all positive and focused on "consent is awesome and sexy and good for everyone!"

The description of them in the piece by the MIT prof sounds just as disconnected from reality as the rest of what he wrote. I'm sorry, but anyone fucked up enough to be requesting chemical castration just does not represent a perspective that reflects many people's experiences.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:18 PM on December 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


We're angry and exhausted for real reasons, though, and the idea that women in particular are expected to have relentless personal reserves to dedicate to helping these men through their battles with patriarchy while also carrying our own (generally greater) burden and do so without ever stepping on their toes or hurting their feelings is worth acknowledging. It's part and parcel of the culture that expects women to be vending machines, that sets up traps of expectations for the behavior of women and girls that also end up creating pretty significant walls that men are expected to behave within (and leaves no room for nonbinary folks and seriously fucks over everyone who isn't cis), that not only allows but expects certain kinds of harassment and abuse.

Our anger and exhaustion don't exist in a vacuum, and it's Aaronson who's explicitly dehumanizing the people he sees as Neanderthals. (Hell, there's a push I've seen towards embracing of the monstrous that's been around for a while but seems to be exploding in nerd/sci-fi/fantasy circles that embrace social justice principals because there is often something identifiable in the wings and scales for people who have been dehumanized. Access to what is "human" is defined, at least to an extent, by what is defined as "default humanity" and who made that definition.)
posted by NoraReed at 5:22 PM on December 29, 2014 [56 favorites]


The things that are sticking to my brain, reading the articles and this discussion:
1. Privilege is not binary, and is relevant to many axes.

2. You can never master communication, but try to work with other people who are acting in good faith.

3. Treat groups of people as individuals, with their own characteristics and lives, before talking about them.
posted by halifix at 5:23 PM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Wow. Thanks for posting.
posted by Stynxno at 5:24 PM on December 29, 2014


However, I do encourage you to step back and not participate in the conversation, until the person sitting across from you looks more like a human...

But you can understand how a lot of us would also like to see this advice pointed at Aaronson, yes?
posted by rtha at 5:26 PM on December 29, 2014 [33 favorites]


Actually scratch everything I said, I hadn't scrolled down on the blog comments.
posted by vogon_poet at 5:29 PM on December 29, 2014


Man-children like Aaronson need to stop calling people Neanderthals, for sure.
posted by uosuaq at 5:30 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


There are no examples of positive, non-harassment flirting that can be universally taken, because it is dependent on motherfucking context. They need to accurately gauge the other person's level of interest, and yes, if she seems like she is not interested, they need to fuck off.

And how exactly is a man who doesn't understand those contexts supposed to learn them? The whole point of his original comment seems to be that he feels like there is no safe arena for him to learn those skills without the danger that a sufficiently serious mistake (the exact criteria for which he does not understand) could bring a shameful end to his entire career.

No one is required to answer that question or tutor this guy or excuse the kinds of damage ignorance like his can cause. But I think it's possible he deserves more sympathy than contempt.

Penny's call to fix the systems in our society that cause and perpetuate this kind of ignorance seems a lot more productive than yet again piling on one of the people who have been twisted by those systems.
posted by straight at 5:31 PM on December 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


also on the prescriptivism thing, holy shit, read one of the 4000 articles about that out there which outlines why it's BS before you repeat the same points ad naseum about how peoples writing doesn't meet your standards.

whether you intend to or not, it comes off as "i'm going to dismiss your message at least somewhat because of the way you presented it" which is just... no


Knocking down prescriptivism is a straw man. I don't think there'd be much disagreement if I claim that the style of a piece has an effect on how it's received. Isn't it possible that an article written in this style (cursing, modern-sounding constructions) might put off some members of the audience it's intended to address? The author probably has the ability to write in a different tone or register - I doubt it's truly a cultural or class difference. That means that the author made a choice to write it this way. I'd argue that the piece could have been more effective/persuasive if it had been written in a less angry and trendy style.
posted by sloafmaster at 5:31 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I related to Scott's comment - having been the sort of super-anxious, socially awkward, privilege-aware guy who is so terrified of stepping out of bounds and being a creep that I just, well, don't bother being proactive in this area of my life, most of the time, to my detriment. It's somewhat of a bummer that genuinely nice, shy, well-meaning people - of any gender - often have a miserable time of it. But I've never even thought of blaming sexual harrassment seminars, radical feminist literature, or anything else. It's my shit I've had to deal with. It's been entirely on me, not anyone else. While I related to some of his hardships there's no way Scott or I can be considered a "victim" of anything other than our own self-doubts and fucked up, misguided male pathologies. It sounds like he's married and all good in this department (and I'm not!), but he seems to still have a lot of stuff he needs to work through. I hope it's a beneficial conversation for him and others who've had this problem, even if the conversation comes across as harsh to some.
posted by naju at 5:33 PM on December 29, 2014 [18 favorites]


But you can understand how a lot of us would also like to see this advice pointed at Aaronson, yes?

Indeed. It's advice everyone should follow, especially myself. I checked out of the thread earlier on because all I saw was justification for anger, and a sense of "by God, if I have to set one more person straight, I'm just going to tell them to fuck off instead," which is an entirely understandable feeling. But that doesn't mean it's not counteproductive.

I wrote more than a couple nice vitriolic comments and deleted/didn't post them because I was reacting to a caricature of the poster that was forming in my mind, and not the real person who wrote what they wrote. So I didn't comment. I won't pretend that anger justifies me not treating someone with minimal respect -- Aaronson, other members in this thread... ANYONE.

Because hell, if I go sowing anger and hatred -- even in pursuit of virtue -- I need to back off and let more level-headed people help the ignorant and confused move toward understanding.

I see Aaronson as confused. If you see him as obstinate, as a latent Red-Piller or PUA or whatever, you're really barking up the wrong tree. If you see everyone who needs serious self-examination and education as a lost cause, you aren't needed to make life more difficult for everyone else who is trying to make something good come from what is all around a shitty situation. That said, I'm going back on break again and hope to see more of the very good level-headed posters keep talking while the hotheads like me sit out a while.
posted by chimaera at 5:34 PM on December 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


However, I do encourage you to step back and not participate in the conversation, until the person sitting across from you looks more like a human than a monster.

Yeah, how about no. Because I'm not denying his humanity, not calling him a monster. I'm just pointing out that he's an asshole with a rather stunning lack of introspection, and at this point, I don't really feel any real desire to sugarcoat that for the sake of "comity". And I find your statement to be a form of silencing, because you're basically saying that if we can't be "nice", we're not welcome in the discussion.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:35 PM on December 29, 2014 [28 favorites]


And I find your statement to be a form of silencing, because you're basically saying that if we can't be "nice", we're not welcome in the discussion.

See it any way you wish. Vent your anger however you like. It feels great to say it like it is, and don't let me stop you. But don't pretend you're going to enlighten the ignorant or shame the obstinate into self-reflection by doing so.
posted by chimaera at 5:40 PM on December 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


Hey now ladies if we were just nicer this 242,634,152,830th time we've explained this since time began then everyone would totally get it and stop treating us like alien sex machines.

don't be mad because it's our job to always be nice and understanding about bullshit treatment all the time for all our lives.
posted by winna at 5:41 PM on December 29, 2014 [78 favorites]


Yeah, no, that wasn't silencing.
posted by uosuaq at 5:41 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


But I've never even thought of blaming sexual harrassment seminars..."

Is anyone actually intimidated by a seminar? The most memorable "seminar" I ever attended was in high school. A Milwaukee PD sergeant came into one of my classes, excused the girls and proceeded to explain the different degrees of sexual assault to us male students. He then explained that he would be quite happy to cuff us and throw us in jail should we commit one of these acts. I don't think anyone actually gave two fucks what the cop was saying but it was certainly more entertaining than the annual boilerplate lectures by a labor lawyer that were to come in later years.
posted by MikeMc at 5:43 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


don't be mad because it's our job to always be nice and understanding about bullshit treatment all the time for all our lives.

Yeah, I was seriously flashing back to the principal who told me that the boys who attacked me in school wouldn't have done it if I had just been nicer to them and smiled more, and how I should understand how traumatic it would be for them if they were to have to face any kind of punishment. I got that lesson very early on.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:45 PM on December 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


But don't pretend you're going to enlighten the ignorant or shame the obstinate into self-reflection by doing so.

Not all commentary by women on this topic is intended for the benefit of male readers and their potential self-actualization. Penny's essay was, and I'm glad I read it. But sometimes women just talk about the shit they put up with, even in the presence of men, without considering the men's feelings. It's almost like women are real people with full internal lives that don't relate to the faces they're socialized to wear to men.
posted by immlass at 5:45 PM on December 29, 2014 [86 favorites]


I didn't consider Laurie Penny a tool for being nice and understanding while also presenting her point of view extremely well.
posted by uosuaq at 5:46 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Holy fuck are we actually having a tone argument about how the original message is diminished because she made a conscious choice to write a response in an informal but very personal style? She us not writing this to a peer review journal so why should she abandon a very persuasive style just to use a type of rhetoric people agree with. I hoped after all the race issues we have gone through on metafilter were past tone arguments as a way of dismissal.
posted by vuron at 5:46 PM on December 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


Well, it certainly wasn't a successful silencing attempt. It was part of a widespread cultural problem in which women are expected to be endlessly patient and never get angry at the men who are oppressing and silencing us, though, and help them through their own issues with the patriarchy while they blame feminism for them
posted by NoraReed at 5:46 PM on December 29, 2014 [24 favorites]


And how exactly is a man who doesn't understand those contexts supposed to learn them?

At what point am I allowed to expect someone who navigates academia successfully - he's a tenured professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the world - to take responsibility for his own learning? I really have a hard time buying that a guy who can work academic politics can't figure out how to not sexually harass someone.
posted by rtha at 5:47 PM on December 29, 2014 [80 favorites]


Also in response to the on the prescriptivism thing, holy shit... here's a nice article by Steven Pinker on the false dichotomy of "prescriptivism" vs "descriptivism".
posted by k8bot at 5:50 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I really have a hard time buying that a guy who can work academic politics can't figure out how to not sexually harass someone.

Jokey side-note, but rtha, I'm guessing you don't work in academia...
posted by uosuaq at 5:55 PM on December 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


There are no examples of positive, non-harassment flirting that can be universally taken, because it is dependent on motherfucking context

As they say on the Internet: 1: Be attractive. 2: Don't be unattractive. Plus 3: Nos. 1 & 2 depend on motherfucking context.

I've been reading MetaFilter for over a decade and this place is just too nasty for me now. It's been a great run but I am an increasingly old man and must use my time better. So long.

Peace & farewell.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:56 PM on December 29, 2014


On second thought, I'm checking out of this thread permanently, now. I'm insufficiently orthodox for some of you in this thread. I'm going to take my own advice and walk away.
posted by chimaera at 5:57 PM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


[A couple comments removed, cool it.]
posted by cortex at 5:57 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


If he was willing to undergo chemical castration to deal with his issues, I have no doubt that his adolescence was intensely unpleasant. But what most grownups eventually realize is that virtually everyone's adolescence was intensely unpleasant, and if you're a straight white guy, you also realize that, if you weren't beaten, molested, or abused, yours was probably less unpleasant than most.

Aaronson has yet to come to this realization, and I think that's why so many on the blue are reacting with hostility to his whining. And it is whining, you're 33 years old dude, get over yourself already. The lack of empathy in that post reveals some combination of narcissism and fundamental inability to deal with people. I lean toward the latter given his desire to just have a simple set of math-like rules he could follow to make sure he did the right thing when it came to interacting with women.

I thought the rebuttal was perfect, if Penny had come out guns blazing, what would that have accomplished? People inclined to agree would have cheered and people inclined to disagree would have dug in their heels. Her approach thoughtfully accepts his pain (and presumably that of readers who feel the same way) and steers them in a more empathetic direction. This isn't as satisfying as a broadside, but it's a much more effective way to get people to listen and actually addresses the fundamental underlying problem of lacking empathy.
posted by Ndwright at 5:58 PM on December 29, 2014 [17 favorites]


However, I do encourage you to step back and not participate in the conversation, until the person sitting across from you looks more like a human than a monster.

Yeah, how about no. Because I'm not denying his humanity, not calling him a monster. I'm just pointing out that he's an asshole with a rather stunning lack of introspection, and at this point, I don't really feel any real desire to sugarcoat that for the sake of "comity". And I find your statement to be a form of silencing, because you're basically saying that if we can't be "nice", we're not welcome in the discussion.


I'm a woman. I'm a feminist. I'm a scientist. I established a women's network at my workplace. I have previously experienced unequivocal and entrenched sexism which has threatened my career and my income. I fought back against that sexism... which has had consequences, both good and bad.

What I've loved about Metafilter is that it is a place for intelligent and considered discussion and debate. Even more than that, it is a place where I come to learn about the perspectives of other people who are: (a) very much like me; or (b) not at all like me. I tend to think that a big part of living a interesting, informed, empathetic and good life is learning to understand (not necessarily agree with) unfamiliar viewpoints.

I absolutely understand that there are times when, as women, we are expected to be 'nice'. I absolutely agree that requiring a woman to be 'nice' puts her in a box where she can't be heard. I absolutely fight tooth and nail to ensure that I and the women around me do not succumb to the pressure to be 'nice' about things that are damn important to us.

I absolutely reject that the comment encouraging us to "step back and not participate in the conversation, until the person sitting across from you looks more like a human than a monster" was silencing anyone.

Yes we all have opinions. This is Metafilter, so we get to express them. But I do not think that an interesting and robust discussion is helped by accusations. A good and robust debate means treating members of the conversation with the respect that is due to one's peers. You can't have a good discussion without respect for each other's opinions. THAT is what chimaera's comment was saying: let's respect different points of view and learn from them.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 6:00 PM on December 29, 2014 [50 favorites]


Jahaza: I mean... that's pathology. The solution is therapy, not fewer sexual harassment seminars.

You say male privilege/I say neurotypical privilege/you say po-tay-to/I say po-tah-toe. Let's call the whole thing off.

Seriously, though, we see these these blogger point-counterpoint matches on a regular basis now. Clearly they're started by men who are awakening to feminism but just don't quite get it. It's hard to wrap your brain around at first and when I was first introduced to these ideas, it was in real life diversity training with skilled facilitators and not this Internet tumblredditweet bullpucky.

Maybe instead of starting the conversation with privilege, which just invites pissing contests in our competition soaked patriarchal culture, maybe we should start the conversations from a place of "how can I help you and how can you help me?" Intersectionality of privilege is clearly too subtle of an idea to portray well over the Internet as a medium.
posted by Skwirl at 6:02 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Holy fuck are we actually having a tone argument about how the original message is diminished because she made a conscious choice to write a response in an informal but very personal style?

no.

every time someone expresses they are disappointed in how something is presented(and hell, the reasons it was probably presented that way) or thinks that softening stuff up to try and sell it to a tough crowd is sad, does not mean they're throwing the original message in the garbage.

i'm really, really tired of specifically on this site people deciding that any criticism is a dismissal, and that every criticism of presentation is automatically a tone argument and therefor The Worst.

i honestly completely hate that phrase now, and think it's overused as a club. i know this puts me in the great company of anti-sjw types at a glance, but seriously... if you look at this thread and see nothing but tone policing you might need to take a break.
posted by emptythought at 6:05 PM on December 29, 2014 [24 favorites]


"Tone Argument" is probably only one of a number of tropes that are way overused. And I don't think it applies to formal vs. informal vs. lolcat grammar to begin with.
posted by uosuaq at 6:09 PM on December 29, 2014


Also stop silencing people by suggesting they take a break, emptythought.
posted by uosuaq at 6:10 PM on December 29, 2014


Isn't it possible that an article written in this style (cursing, modern-sounding constructions) might put off some members of the audience it's intended to address?

Sure, but it's also possible that Penny and her editors have an audience that will find the informal style of the piece to be approachable, relatable, and authentic -- and consequently more convincing. Penny and her editors probably know their audience better than we do and made a call about what they thought would be most effective.

See it any way you wish. Vent your anger however you like. It feels great to say it like it is, and don't let me stop you. But don't pretend you're going to enlighten the ignorant or shame the obstinate into self-reflection by doing so.

Part of the challenge of talking about this stuff in this particular format is that it can seem like there's one conversation happening, but actually there are a bunch of conversations with a bunch of different participants and intended audiences, all happening at the same time. Some of those conversations are about convincing people of something; some of them are about venting and mutual support. Both are totally legitimate, and neither is a broken, flawed version of the other.
posted by amery at 6:10 PM on December 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


Also stop silencing people by suggesting they take a break, emptythought.

Wait, was there an implied hamburger there that I missed or are you trying to silence emptythought?
posted by MikeMc at 6:13 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Jokey side-note, but rtha, I'm guessing you don't work in academia...

I've generally gotten the impression that in academia, like most fields, sexual harassment happens because people with power know they can get away with it and do it anyway, not because they can't figure out how not to do it. But that's how most sexual harassment (and worse sexual crimes) ends up happening; very few people end up "accidentally being creeps" or whatever people are using as an excuse this week. Generally these people are just good at being victimizers and socially awkward, anxious and shy men make good shields.
posted by NoraReed at 6:13 PM on December 29, 2014 [30 favorites]


The need or desire for a script is a classic attribute of someone on the autism spectrum. I'm not diagnosing Aaronson, but some people really do need to learn scripts to begin to function well with other people.

I can't for a second understand his willingness to project his anxieties onto an entire class of people. Unless those people are actually abusing you then you have no right to blame them for your fears.

I am not trying to allege anything of Aaronson specifically, but his fear that all women are silently judging him and denying him intimacy (or would deny him if he asked) reminds me strongly of some of what Elliot Rodger wrote and it's creeping me the fuck out.
posted by BungaDunga at 6:15 PM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


My observation of academia suggests that it is full not of absent-minded professors who just can't remember where we keep the toner or how to check their voice mail but of very bright people who do not want to know how to do what it is inconvenient or unpleasant for them to do and who use the "but I caaaaaaaaan't do this basic thing that everyone else figures out easily" business to get out of doing what they don't want to do without being called on it. There may well be a tiny percentage of faculty who are Too Awkward To Ever Deal With Humans, but for the most part these are people who negotiate conferences, the tenure process and of course the nightmare sausage factory that is graduate school - it's not like they don't know how to work various systems.
posted by Frowner at 6:17 PM on December 29, 2014 [68 favorites]


You can't have a good discussion without respect for each other's opinions. THAT is what chimaera's comment was saying: let's respect different points of view and learn from them.

And what if it's a point of view you don't have any respect for? Are you supposed to just swallow your feelings and "play nice"?

I've been where he's been, and yes, it really, really sucks. But I eventually realized that it was my own personal problems that made me feel like I couldn't connect with anyone, and that I needed to fix what was problematic with me. And even when I was in my "who would want me" phase, I knew enough that behavior was built on context.

I'm tired of being told that I have to be "nice" and show understanding for viewpoints that I do understand and reject.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:17 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I was responding to the assertion made that the article would be more effective if the author had used a less trendy expletive filled style. How often is that used to silence angry young minorities and females? Why should we tolerate people attempting to say that the content is diminished because of the way it was said?
posted by vuron at 6:18 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really have a hard time buying that a guy who can work academic politics can't figure out how to not sexually harass someone.

No joke, I think you're vastly overestimating the amount of social skills necessary to maintain a STEM career in academia.
posted by straight at 6:20 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am discouraged to find myself agreeing, straight.

But I still hold him responsible for his own behavior and learning.
posted by rtha at 6:24 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love this, thank you for posting it.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:26 PM on December 29, 2014


And what if it's a point of view you don't have any respect for? Are you supposed to just swallow your feelings and "play nice"?

There were about twelve vitriolic comments I wrote for this thread and then deleted without posting. It feels great to vent, but it's fundamentally toxic to reasoned discussion. If you feel a genuine need to vent your personal outrage, there are alternative outlets available.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:27 PM on December 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


Since it's just lack of social skills, and I guess not a reflection of any systemic dynamics, how come we never hear about all the awkward women accidentally sexually harassing?
posted by PMdixon at 6:29 PM on December 29, 2014 [68 favorites]


Penny's essay is excellent both for its substance and as a reminder of the incredibly complex rhetorical situation facing criticisms of systemic injustices. Arguments differ depending on audience(s) and purpose in arguing among other elements of context.

Penny speaks not just to Aaronson but to others who bring attitudes both similar to and different from that he personally holds. Her argument serves different purposes at the same time, e.g. condemning sexism, supporting women targeted by sexist behavior, and trying to find a way to speak to those whose mindset insulates itself against critically examining sexism. As such, it won't necessarily satisfy audiences who wish for an argument more focused on one of those purposes over others. I suspect Penny's essay will play a much larger role in the longer term, serving as one of many influences one people learning about the operation of sexism, than in changing Aaronson's behavior in the short term.

The process of an individual moving from a position of unconscious privilege reinforcing systemic injustice to awareness and acting in opposition to those systems can be complex and take time. At any given point in a person's developing awareness of intersecting oppressions, she/he/they will be receptive to one kind of message and revolt from another.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:31 PM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


I particularly love Aaronson's suggestion that he would have been better off being born a woman or a gay man

I'm a gay male with a STEM research background, and while in school I used to check on Aaronson's blog regularly. On these kinds of political issues he tends to exhibit a naive, half-baked kind of thinking as encapsulated by the sentiment referred to in the comment above. Hence I'm not even going to bother clicking his post, because the weak points of his arguments will be predictable i.e. consistent with some of his prior views. But I do like the rest of his blog very much.

As for Laura Penny's article—it's well-written for the intended audience, but I personally prefer a "academic-rigor" nerdy that links a lot of citations, especially for the benefit of somebody like Aaronson to follow up on. A good way to develop one's context is simply to spend the effort on actually doing the readings (and Penny observes that he has only read Dworkin), which were written for a reason, by feminist theorists and authors.
posted by polymodus at 6:39 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Since it's just lack of social skills, and I guess not a reflection of any systemic dynamics, how come we never hear about all the awkward women accidentally sexually harassing?

You know I think I've been accidentally sexually harassed by a woman with an unusually poor grasp of social boundaries. But as a guy I didn't find that (or most any other sexual advance) particularly intimidating - which of course is them systemic dynamics in action.

I got sucked into the discussion on reddit about the original Aaronson thing, which was a bad idea, even on the supposedly enlightened TrueReddit. I hope this makes it over there but I don't want to be the one to do it 'cause I cant afford to spend my whole night arguing with reddit people again.
posted by atoxyl at 6:42 PM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


The need or desire for a script is a classic attribute of someone on the autism spectrum. I'm not diagnosing Aaronson, but some people really do need to learn scripts to begin to function well with other people.

My younger son is on the Autism spectrum (if Autism were a fictional scale with Sheldon Cooper on one end and "Rain Man" on the other he is on the Rain Man end) and he has written/visual scripts known as Social Stories that are used as a tool to try and teach him how to properly interact with people. While Aaronson obviously doesn't need a story to teach him that it's not ok to expose your genitals at random times to say he might actually need some sort of script isn't a huge stretch.
posted by MikeMc at 6:42 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


-Since it's just lack of social skills, and I guess not a reflection of any systemic dynamics, how come we never hear about all the awkward women accidentally sexually harassing?

--You know I think I've been accidentally sexually harassed by a woman with an unusually poor grasp of social boundaries. But as a guy I didn't find that (or most any other sexual advance) particularly intimidating - which of course is them systemic dynamics in action.


And if I'm reading correctly, it sounds like it was just the once? (Not saying that once is OK, just saying that that if it's not an everyday occurrence it might be less of a parallel.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:50 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think the text you quoted already makes the point you're trying to make, Underpants.
posted by uosuaq at 6:53 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


...I don't want to be the one to do it 'cause I cant afford to spend my whole night arguing with reddit people again.

obligatory xkcd
posted by Jacqueline at 6:55 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


And what if it's a point of view you don't have any respect for? Are you supposed to just swallow your feelings and "play nice"?

Of course not. You fight. You fight with words, or actions, or policy, or whatever mechanism you choose. Most importantly you work towards change. But not by simply trading barbs. Trading barbs is great for letting off steam at the pub - and it has value there - but it doesn't accomplish much in a shared discussion, nor does it effect tangible change.

Now the article under discussion. THAT I think might change some people's viewpoints. And because of that it has incredible value.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 6:55 PM on December 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


I really liked Penny’s response. I thought it hit exactly the right balance between empathy, personal essay, and accessible teaching tool. I hope that some earnest, but really clueless folks, get something out of it.

And, I really feel badly for what Aaronson went through. Based upon his blog comment, it sounds as if he endured years of crippling anxiety about his sexuality as a boy and a young man. But the more of his comments I read (in particular, his ideas about the delicate shy, male nerd psyche and how sexual harassment seminars should go) the more I suspect that he won’t be one of the dudes aboard the clue train.
posted by skye.dancer at 7:01 PM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


And if I'm reading correctly, it sounds like it was just the once? (Not saying that once is OK, just saying that that if it's not an everyday occurrence it might be less of a parallel.)

Um I can think of a couple of examples - the point is that it *wasn't* a big deal to me, because it's not parallel, because systemic factors.

If there's any potential controversial thing I *am* saying is that I'm pretty sure it really is possible to accidentally sexually harass someone - the thing is that lack of intent doesn't necessarily change the impact. Scott Aaronson probably won't like to hear this but to some extent certain social skills are things you owe it other people to try to learn if you can so you don't accidentally do anything hurtful. On the other hand if you really can't? I don't know how I feel about this idea really except that reducing the aforementioned systemic imbalances will eventually make whole thing less thorny - if we can make that happen.
posted by atoxyl at 7:12 PM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


I remember a whole bunch of nerdy male friends turning on me in high school because I apparently rejected the advances of one of them. At the time? I was so obtuse, introverted and inexperienced with relationships that I didn't even know the guy was hitting on me. Years later I was told by one of the friends at a high school reunion that I had broken their friend's heart. Thanks dude. And y'all made my last two years in high school pretty hellish. But hey? Why don't we do a shot and hug it out.
posted by triage_lazarus at 7:26 PM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Just to clear up my own clumsiness - I wasn't trying to disagree or argue with atoxyl, but to take what he said a step further and elaborate on it. I can see that I wasn't very clear about it, and I'm sorry about that.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:26 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


But the more of his comments I read (in particular, his ideas about the delicate shy, male nerd psyche and how sexual harassment seminars should go) the more I suspect that he won’t be one of the dudes aboard the clue train.

Wow. That is...something. It's like he can't even comprehend that women are people too.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:27 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


But I still hold him responsible for his own behavior and learning.

And that's really my main sticking point, rtha. It feels like somehow, I'm supposed to put aside the fact that he's had plenty of opportunity to actually learn about the issue. I don't see the problem in saying that at a certain point, it's on the person to have learned about the issues.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:35 PM on December 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm someone who was literally abused and bullied out of STEM environment settings by "traumatized nerds" in my life, including teachers and I still live in fear on the internet for any one of them coming back to avenge themselves on me. However, I still want to learn coding and programming, and go back into sciences later on in my life. I also am a social justice activist and work with marginalized groups.

This entire essay helps give me strength to continue on that path, on refusing to be pushed out by arrogant, unempathetic people that have continued to tell generations of marginalized identity groups like me that we don't belong. Reading this online discussion, and seeing other people who get it, just on the basis of common, human empathy, helps me heal. Quietly reading all the articles on coding and programming on here, has helped me gain the strength and tools to learn on my own, and to bring it back to my communities with similar histories. Bigots need to be fought and overcome, and let go of their access to power due to their ways of bullying. Thanks y'all.
posted by yueliang at 8:02 PM on December 29, 2014 [32 favorites]


But the more of his comments I read (in particular, his ideas about the delicate shy, male nerd psyche and how sexual harassment seminars should go) the more I suspect that he won’t be one of the dudes aboard the clue train.

He's explicit at the start of that essay that he is talking about a specific subset of men who are on the autistic spectrum. I wish he had started his main essay the same way, and had been more careful in his language to differentiate between nerd guys and guys on the spectrum, because they aren't the same thing at all. Being explicit about that also changes the need for and the purpose of Penny's essay -- is this a fully generalizable argument or something limited to a subset of autistic men? His wiring is sloppy and that is creating poor outcomes.

That said, how to teach consent and appropriate dating behavior to bright young men on the spectrum is a looming issue for universities, because the big cohort of early diagnoses is just starting to hit college age and there are a lot more coming in the next decade or two. If a bunch of your students are cognitively different around social issues, there are going to have to be best practices developed to cover the necessary expectations and boundaries.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:02 PM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


Man-children like Aaronson need to stop calling people Neanderthals, for sure.

Especially as contemporary research paints Neanderthals as being some pretty cool dudes.

(3 percent Neanderthal myself.)
posted by maxsparber at 8:17 PM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


One, two...many percent also, but me no like brag.
posted by uosuaq at 8:19 PM on December 29, 2014 [24 favorites]


who use the "but I caaaaaaaaan't do this basic thing that everyone else figures out easily" business to get out of doing what they don't want to do without being called on it.

Oh absolutely. Just like all the otherwise competent dudes who claim they can't figure out how to cook or change a diaper.

I'm not convinced that applies to this kind of thing, however. There seems to be some missing insight or empathy that goes beyond mere laziness or self-centeredness.
posted by straight at 8:37 PM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wait, it's cook *or* change a diaper?
posted by uosuaq at 8:39 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


(that was intended as a joke in the eats shoots & leaves category of punctuational humor, by the bye)
posted by uosuaq at 8:47 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


There seems to be some missing insight or empathy that goes beyond mere laziness or self-centeredness.

This is often the realization that women are people. With thoughts.
posted by NoraReed at 8:55 PM on December 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


He's explicit at the start of that essay that he is talking about a specific subset of men who are on the autistic spectrum.

I’m puzzled as to why you think that it matters who he’s addressing—a nerdy guy who is or isn’t on the spectrum—his message, as well its premises, is still made of fail and WTF.

In that post, he asserts that 1) women are willing to risk potential rape because they badly want male affection; 2) that female desire is apparently transferable between non-nerd guys and nerd guys; 3) that nerd guys are morally superior than non-nerd guys; and 4) that nerd guys are apparently engaging in an ethical higher calling, with bonus moral purity, not to mention gifting a woman with what might be one of her greatest pleasures in life when they get beyond the first date with her.

I mean, seriously. That’s not a healthy, reality-based message for anybody, no matter what flavor of nerd or non-nerd they happen to be.
posted by skye.dancer at 9:15 PM on December 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


We were told repeatedly, we ugly, shy nerdy girls, that we were not even worthy of the category "woman".

I remain haunted by the episode of Bones where the "loser geeks" were three male teenagers and a female teenager, and the female teenager was dismissed as a woman by Booth, and you subsequently found out two of the three male teenagers had sex with her, but none of them valued her.

I'm glad Pennie wrote what she did. I applaud her compassion, and can't imagine how many rewrites she went through. I'm dismayed at the extent to which women are still expected to protect male feelings and cater to not distressing men too much, as well as shape all attempts to discourage mistreatment of women around their desire for a girlfriend.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:17 PM on December 29, 2014 [19 favorites]


Please, oh please, let someone inside the Jewish world write an essay even half as compassionate and nuanced as Penny's, but about AMAB Orthodox rabbis. Because Aaronson-like personal behaviors (and torments, probably) yet career success by my teachers/community leaders is exactly what I am afflicted with daily in my studies.

Please, please, please someone at least translate this into Hebrew and Yiddish. I do not have the subtle translation skills. I would help publish it all over the Jewish press/public posters (many of the people I deal with do not use the Internet, TV or radio).
posted by Dreidl at 9:21 PM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


People inclined to agree would have cheered and people inclined to disagree would have dug in their heels.

Have you looked at the comments on Penny's article? There are people who will dig their heels in about their privilege no matter what. I'm out of patience for guys like Aaronson. Their performed confusion comes off as a dodge to me. I know that's uncharitable but fuck, enough is enough. All the information is out there - these dudes who flatter themselves as smart and logical can read the hell up if the idea that women aren't sex appliances is really all that confusing.

Nerd culture has become something worse that what it was reacting to and it's past time to burn it to the ground. She's a better person than me, no doubt - all I want to do is scream at whining, foot-dragging dudes like Aaronson. It's 2014; I don't think feminists need to shoulder the basic burden of proof any longer. That's now a problem for dudes who expect the world to keep indulging their bafflingly persistent immaturity.

Very curious what his response will be to Penny's heroically compassionate and patient explanation.
posted by EatTheWeak at 9:35 PM on December 29, 2014 [37 favorites]


I’m puzzled as to why you think that it matters who he’s addressing—a nerdy guy who is or isn’t on the spectrum—his message, as well its premises, is still made of fail and WTF.

If Aaronson is actually among the people on the spectrum he's addressing, do you still think his comments are made of fail and WTF?

I mean, wow... I really can't imagine saying "what the fuck?" to a person with autism trying to figure out human relations. Or, uh, "fail"?

Not that Aaronson isn't responsible himself for conflating nerd mentality with non-neurotypical thinking. But at the very least he appears conscious that his own thinking was disordered. If he admits that from the start, maybe give him a little credit?
posted by torticat at 9:36 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


i wrote a different long comment, then i rtfa. and uh. wow. glad i did. major change of course. i will talk about this from a perspective neither Laurie nor this thread have really addressed.

disclaimer: i agree with the criticism of this guy's entitlement and bad politics. what i'm about to say does not minimize that.

Scott: 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.

Laurie: I know them feels, Scott.

I call bullshit. Laurie, a self-identifed "female" woman, does not in fact know them feels. Shy nerdy trans women & transfeminine people know those feels.

I know them feels, Scott.


This guy's talking about more than "shy male nerds" as an oppressed class. this guy's talking about "gender dysphoria".

i'm dead fucking serious.

hating their male libido*? having trouble relating to women as men? wishing they were born a woman or gay? wanting community around the idea of being amab or male but not being a man? serious about feminism, fucked up about what male privilege means for them? Not finding a place within activism or feminist theory for themselves?
People like this have a lot of potential, especially if they're not brain-fried on binarist radical feminsim, binarism being an aspect of Dworkin's ilk that Penny does not address. What i'm saying is, if a young person talking like this were to venture onto a message board in 2014 asking "am i trans", or "am i agender", or "am i asexual", or whatever, the answer would be "possibly" or "probably" or "yes". And there's the community, there's the activism.

In 2014, you're still not going to find academics talking about this stuff very well. but if you poke around the right corners on tumblr you'll find us. we have theory about people like this. they might look like men and say they're men and wield to some degree the structural power given to men by patriarchy and do a lot of the shitty and terrible things men do. but when they say that's not the full story, even subtly, we get it.

anyway, feminists of this thread, i don't want to minimize the damage done by sad dudes like Scott, but one of the best things you can do to make things better is please please please support the writing and theory of trans women and transfeminine people especially people of color rather than always doubling down on talking about "patriarchy" and "male privilege" because there are scenarios where it does way more harm than good and honestly this is probably one of them.

i'm going to stop writing now because i'm staring to get pissed and the more pissed i get the less accessible this comment is going to be.

*i want to specifically call this out, because in a world without gatekeeping or transmisgyny, this guy would be able to shamelessly try and find a combination of hormones that worked for him.
posted by thug unicorn at 9:51 PM on December 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


Reading through the response, and then comments on the blog (OMG Amy, how can I find you and hug you and buy you a drink?), and then the commentary here, I have now fallen irreparably in love with pretty much every woman participating in this discussion.

The topic was sexual harassment of a female student that was so vile that a well-regarded professor was publicly censured by MIT; for some reason, that spurred a conversation about how hard it is for heterosexual white male nerds who can't get laid, led by a heterosexual white male nerd who is by all accounts happily married. And now I have learned how the trauma of not getting laid as a teenager is so agonizing that this married heterosexual white male nerd considers himself the most oppressed creature in society. It's so tone deaf on so many levels that I can't quite believe he had the gall to say it out loud.

But fortunately other people have more constructive ways to engage in that conversation with him. In their place my eyes would glaze over and I would go find someone else to talk to. Like Amy, or Laurie Penny, or NoraReed.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:52 PM on December 29, 2014 [32 favorites]


I should say that I think this is taking some things seriously out of context/assuming the worst:

1) women are willing to risk potential rape because they badly want male affection; 2) that female desire is apparently transferable between non-nerd guys and nerd guys; 3) that nerd guys are morally superior than non-nerd guys; and 4) that nerd guys are apparently engaging in an ethical higher calling

Aaronson's whole comment there read as ...odd, to me. It didn't read like it was coming out of a misogynist place or an MRA playbook. Just, odd. Like, someone who has learned a lot and is trying to apply his understanding in a practical way, and it's not coming off quite exactly right. But, for example, point #1 up there--no, I don't think he was saying "women are desperate for male attention, they'll risk anything to get it!" I think it was meant to be, "Hey, guys, women want attention just like we do, they are (shock) like us! if you need proof, look at the risks they undertake..."

But it didn't come off quite right.

I don't know, maybe I'm giving him too much credit. I do think compassion is in order, and the benefit of the doubt, for people on the spectrum who are making an effort to understand, who have done the homework and are attempting to apply it, who are even trying to convey that knowledge to their nerd blog readers.
posted by torticat at 9:54 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I typed into google: "dating guides for people on the spectrum"

Top result: Autistic Survival Guide, which on the face of it looks pretty good. It's an addendum to a much older book. The Sexual Relationships section is fascinating to me, as it lays out some things I accept but don't articulate in the same way.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:55 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


it lays out some things I accept but don't articulate in the same way.

Oh, wow. That is interesting, yes, but I would say it reads at least as odd as Aaronson's post! It lays things out in rules that definitely don't always play out that way in real life.

This one struck me, because a former pastor told me and my husband-to-be this in pre-marital counseling, 20 years ago:

Men tend to want to be respected, but women tend to want to be cherished.

I remember that (he used those exact words!) because I told the pastor it was the opposite with us.

I don't mean to trash that guide, though; it may well be very helpful.
posted by torticat at 10:09 PM on December 29, 2014


tl;dr:
step 0) give an autistic math whiz and possible gay trans girl a bunch of white cis radfems to read.
step 1) look at everyone write thoughtful but extremely ciscentric and liberal feminist criticism
step 2) laugh + cry + go back to tumblr where i belong.
posted by thug unicorn at 10:11 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I believe I've actually taken the social skills training that Aaronson seems to want.

Every week there'd be a different topic, something like Starting a conversation, Inviting someone over, Asking everyone to leave (w. excuses). The last couple weeks were a recap of that material with romance on top--dating is, after all, just a meetup with a small group and with intimacy on the agenda, so there were things about making your romantic intent known, backing off if unreciprocated, etc.

I'm glad this class exists, because I bet some of the other guys there didn't have anyone else in their lives who would actually say that these are things that need done. But I'm privileged with parents who are generally clued in about such matters, who told me what I wanted to know when I asked, and sent me to programs like that one when I didn't. It was expensive.

By the time I took that class I'd about had my fill of facts on those matters and needed help making them into reasons. You know, the kind of thing you reason with and about. Rules, of thumb or otherwise. I'm pretty smart, so I can philosophise my way into understanding a social situation if I need to, but it's rather important to get that done while the situation is actually happening, and for that I needed more mental shortcuts.

It seemed that, by having us do little bits of role play for mundane social scenarios, the instructors believed they were giving us those shortcuts. I can't even say they were wrong, but I think they did a poor job of picking out the shortcuts. Instead of learning how to recognize some specific things people do when they want to hang up the phone but don't want to say as much, I'd rather have learned that people who like talking to me in general are likely to avoid saying they don't want to talk to me at the moment, because it's easy to confuse specific for general and vice versa.

It would be most helpful if the curriculum were built from a list of general social maxims. I think there's probably enough in social psychology to write such a curriculum. But I don't know who would teach it. I'm told that most of the instructors were instructing as a way to pay the bills while they sought funding for research.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:16 PM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


torticat, I’m saying WTF to a tenured professor (no idea whether he's neurotypical or not) who is pondering the notion, casually, in a blog post, whether it might be a good idea for a hypothetical university sexual assault prevention center to promote a program with the particular very wrong message he details. And I was specifically using that post to support my hunch that the content of Penny’s essay will likely not be absorbed by him.

To clarify, I don’t think that he’s some PUA or MRA guy who hates women actively, I just think that he’s got the usual helping of misogyny and privilege. His personal backstory makes it particularly difficult for him to see himself and his thinking as having anything in common with the PUA/MRA folks. I also think that thug unicorn is most definitely on to something, esp. wrt. expression of masculinity, but unfortunately I have to leave the thread to sleep, so I can’t explore that any further.

Finally, I apologize to you, torticat, and to other people in this thread that I have unthinkingly insulted or offended with my previous comments and with the way that I worded them. I will be much more careful with my wording moving forward.
posted by skye.dancer at 10:33 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh, wow. That is interesting, yes, but I would say it reads at least as odd as Aaronson's post! It lays things out in rules that definitely don't always play out that way in real life.

What do you think they mean by this?
The relationship between partners typically does NOT change in the bedroom. If it does, rapport either deepens or the relationship changes for the worse.
posted by atoxyl at 10:40 PM on December 29, 2014


some of the stuff scott said pushed a lot of buttons for me, and maybe i should have written a personal response rather than a abstract one. but you guys should already be including and addressing the existence of trans women and transfeminine people in your analyses anyway so i'm not going to beat myself up over it.

really, the more your frameworks of feminism acknowledge actual living trans women and transfeminine people, the less cover you leave for men like scott (or, we could say, "hypotheticaly transfeminine people" like scott) to say "feminism doesn't account for unmanly males like me" and have any kind of a point.
posted by thug unicorn at 12:03 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


vogon_poet: The uncool kid, obviously, is going to be prone to catastrophic thinking, imagining that a small social mistake is going to result in extreme ostracism and shame, even when that's no longer the case. I have a totally unjustified theory that this is part of what's going on with Aaronson. He seemed to be thinking that if he hit on a woman in a way that came off as even slightly creepy or inappropriate, everyone would shun him and he would be branded for life as a rapist. Hence the desperate desire for a brightline, as opposed to realizing that he would have plenty of opportunities to pull back and apologize for mistakes, and probably wouldn't make them more than once.
-
As much as i understand the objections above to "grow the hell up", hoooo boy if there was ever a case where that should truly apply. I think i've given plenty of demonstration for the fact that i feel this, and can relate, but i just don't buy it if you're a grown ass adult. You SHOULD be made to challenge that thought process, not just spoon fed explanations that allow it to continue.


I have severe social anxiety because of the "Any minor misstep resulted in severe bullying" type thing. Other kids are very poor teachers of social skills. I have no idea why basic life skills can't be taught in schools with as much vigor as, for example, math. They are even more essential to life success. I don't inflict that as entitlement aimed at anybody else, because I have empathy for the issues other people face too, but it isn't something I've been able to work out of myself yet either. I should be able to fix this, just like a depressed person should...Aw shucks, just cheer up! But it doesn't work that way.

This thread actually has made me even more scared of my fellow human beings. I don't agree with any of his conclusions or solutions, but the disregard I am seeing from some for the feelings he has experienced as a shy person is one of the most distressing things I have ever witnessed on this site. I don't know if I can really identify with someone that can't empathize with his hurt.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:11 AM on December 30, 2014 [19 favorites]


(And I'm not trans or anything, but I can see how a shy guy might deceive themself into thinking girls had it easier. One thing I always noticed was that teachers always made a particular effort to get shy girls involved in the classroom and to make sure they were doing okay socially. Shy guys, especially if they are the bigger type, are more likely to be labeled a "strong and silent type." Faking that has at times been a very valuable asset for me, but it would have been helpful if some more teachers noticed that the, "Strong and silent but also sensitive and scared shitless type" exists and needed some special attention too. I dunno, it's a hard discussion with no easy answers. My only solid 100% position is: DEPLOY ALL THE EMPATHY YOU CAN.)
posted by Drinky Die at 12:18 AM on December 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


Maybe this is a side issue, but I just noticed that the origination of Aaronson's post was the announcement that Prof. Walter Lewin of MIT was recently stripped of his emeritus status and barred from participating in the open course system because of a serious infraction of sexual harassment.

Lewin has been mentioned several times in Metafilter. He was once one of the the most revered introductory physics teachers, on a level with Richard Feynman and Philip Morrison. The popular videos of his lectures have been removed from the MIT site but are still available on Youtube.

The guy is 78 years old. I wonder if this behavior is some recent manifestation of dementia or a pattern throughout his teaching career?
posted by JackFlash at 12:45 AM on December 30, 2014


richard feynman was another misogynist weirdo too though. physics being one of the more notoriously anti-women fields, i think i know which i'd bet on.
posted by thug unicorn at 12:49 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


(Apologies for quoting from so far up-thread, but there's a really well-made point I want to endorse and expand on.)

Here is the problem that these man-children seem fundamentally incapable of understanding. There are no examples of positive, non-harassment flirting that can be universally taken, because it is dependent on motherfucking context. They need to accurately gauge the other person's level of interest, and yes, if she seems like she is not interested, they need to fuck off.

That is the part that they can't get, because they want the right combination, the A B B B A B combination that is going to magically break past the resistance of the girl who does not want them. They know they have very little to offer and they don't care, they want to make the woman as target want them anyway.


This is exactly the issue with suggestions of 'flirting classes for nerds'. If you see life as being run on secret rules, and demand to be taught the rules, your response to the rules not producing the outcome you want is unlikely to be positive for anyone involved. As another commenter said:

Every single thread about sexual harassment here and elsewhere inevitably includes a bunch of 'but how will I ever get laid?!?!' whining from men and it's so pathetic. Maybe if men didn't think of women as being robots susceptible to cheat code hackery instead of being human beings they'd be able to relate to us as human beings who are not operated via up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-start nonsense.

The answer to 'but how will I ever get laid?!?!' is simple: maybe you won't. It would be far better for many young men who complain so to have explained to them - ideally in the style of the drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket - the following fundamental truths:

1. You are not entitled to get laid.

2. You are not entitled to an emotionally-fulfilling relationship.

3. You are not, in fact, entitled to be happy by any measure that puts obligations on other people.

Sex and relationships may be nice, may be rewarding but they are not rights, and people - especially people who may lack the social skills, empathy or capacity for introspection to appreciate this - should be firmly disabused of any notion that they are.

(And yes, as a nerdy young man permanently miserable at his lack of success with women, I'm sure I'd have been upset to be told that. But heaven help me, I could have done with someone yelling some sense into me at that age, and telling me that in time I would mature enough that I'd learn to deal with women as, yes, human beings and the relationship woes would sort themselves out.)
posted by Major Clanger at 1:16 AM on December 30, 2014 [58 favorites]


I am bothered by classifying other men as Neanderthals and think he's missing something really really important in doing so (nevermind the dehumanizing part). And I say this from experience and a lesson at least partially learned. I'm smart- not genius smart, and I suspect among mefites I'm average at best. But I grew up somehow smarter than my immediate family and on most days, smarter than the people around me.

And I had a fucking attitude about it for a long time. I looked down my nose at people that didn't have the same intellectual capabilities. I didn't call them Neanderthals, but the slur breeders wasn't uncommon.

Until one day I realized those people I looked down upon had richer social life's. In fact, they were better at dealing with the everyday interactions among peers than I did. It didn't matter I was smarter on paper. I was a know it all and unbearable. And I didn't do a great job of making friends or keeping dialogs open with friends. I certainly didn't think quick on my feet in stressful situations. I lacked emotional intelligence. I didn't get ahead the way I thought I should because other people were easier to talk with, to work with, to be friends with. To be on the bosses good side and get promoted.

And so late into my 3rd decade, I'm still learning this. How utterly embarrassing. And I suspect he suffers from the same thing, only the people he's dubbed Neanderthals may not be perfectly well versed on feminism. They do, however, treat women like real people- at least in a passable way. In a way that doesn't start as the "ass-grabbery" he insists works for them. It starts in a way he hasn't figured out yet.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 2:25 AM on December 30, 2014 [12 favorites]


I can see where you'd get a trans read from him, thug unicorn, and I hadn't considered that at all, but the whole nostalgia-for-more-patriarchal-time thing makes me think he's more likely to just be doing a "grass is greener" thing. I hear the "women have it so easy" thing a lot from dense cis nerd boys who don't do empathy well (and generally don't care to learn), though, so it's possible I'm just expecting that.
posted by NoraReed at 2:32 AM on December 30, 2014 [16 favorites]


The thing I don't quite get here is why an arch-empiricist like Aaronson thought he had to swallow the claims that were presented to him as "feminism" wholesale. I'm interested in the US-style ID politics that you get here on Mefi (and earlier when I hung out more on LJ) in an anthropological sense and I have changed my views as a result of encountering it (particularly, finding out how common street harassment is was a real eye opener for me), but I don't quite get why at some point his bullshit detector didn't go off. Why didn't he work out that either he's not being told what he think he's being told (e.g. I bet if you asked the people conducting the harassment seminar, they wouldn't have said he was meant to take home the lesson that he did) or the people telling him this stuff are wrong about some things (e.g. if the people conducting the harassment seminar genuinely meant to say that men should never approach women under any circumstances just in case it's harassment, they can safely be ignored)?

I guess if you're desperately looking around for some advice on how to approach women you might just latch on to the first group that claims to have the answers. Could have been worse: he could have run into the PUAs before the ID-ists, I suppose, then he'd be going on about "alphas" and "betas" instead of "privilege".
posted by pw201 at 4:28 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


The guy [Walter Lewin] is 78 years old. I wonder if this behavior is some recent manifestation of dementia or a pattern throughout his teaching career?
In multiple threads about the case, I saw more than one person who knew Lewin at least casually for decades say that they were not surprised.
posted by dfan at 4:51 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I hope the students the professor abused are getting help, support and counselling and that more feel safe to come forward now that the university has responded so strongly.
posted by E. Whitehall at 5:01 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I met my now wife (and first substantial relationship) on the internets when I was 32 (I never considered chemical castration but I did wonder if my previous lack of success was because I was gay and hadn't realized it). I messaged her three times before she responded. That could not have happened in real life. Once would have terrified me and twice would have had me fearing the pepper spray.
Re privilege: I have the good fortune to have some perspective on it (I think the theorists call it intersectionality) and no negative interaction with cops or any authority figures cut me as hard as the accelerating pace of the girl in front of me as we both walked back to the dorm late at night. (I took a more circuitous route so as not to remain behind her).
TL;DR
In my experience external genitalia has been more problematic than my excess melanin. I'm aware that on a societal scale that is not the case but folks like Mr. Aaronson tend to lack perspective beyond their own.
posted by Octaviuz at 5:41 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


The answer to 'but how will I ever get laid?!?!' is simple: maybe you won't. It would be far better for many young men who complain so to have explained to them - ideally in the style of the drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket - the following fundamental truths:...

That's true enough, but I think you're misunderstanding the main problem with nerdy guys and relationships. For perspective, we should realize that there are only a tiny number of people like this in the world. The vast majority of people do have relationships of some kind by their late teens or early twenties. We hear about sexless nerdy guys so much because, even though there are probably only like a thousand of them in the world, every single one of them is on the internet all the time. (By comparison, feminists are dealing with issues that affect half the planet -- no wonder they see all this as a pointless derail).

So it's not as if finding a girlfriend is some great achievement that only a few unusually awesome people may aspire to. That's how it may seem when you're 13, but that's not actually how it is. Almost everyone will find someone to go out with. If you put yourself out there even a little, sooner or later someone will buy what you're selling. This is the normal state of humankind.

Where nerds go wrong, I think, is simply that they take The Official Story too seriously. On sex, and everything else. If a middle-aged government employee stands at the front of a classroom and tells them that learning trigonometry is important to their future, they will believe it, as crazy as that seems. When they go to church and hear that Noah's Flood happened, they take that seriously, and when they discover there was no flood, they have a great spiritual crisis and become atheists. And when they read feminism, they read that men are the worst thing in the world for women, and that "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle," and that "the personal is political," they will draw the straightforward implication that every interaction they have with girls is of great world-historical significance, and it's all harmful, shameful, and wrong, and so their duty is now to avoid eye contact with all women for the rest of their lives.

Where obviously the normal, healthy thing to do in those situations is:

1. Take school just seriously enough to get adequate grades so you can move onto better things

2. Go to church every week because it will make your mother happy but don't feel like you have to believe it.

3. If you like a girl you can ask her out, and the only people involved in the decision are the two of you. If she doesn't want to, she has an inalienable right to say no, and her decision must be respected. But if any third party (including parents, friends, or feminist intellectuals) presumes to second-guess either your proposition or her response, they should be politely invited to take a flying fuck at the moon. Feminism is politics, and you're not supposed to actually take politics seriously, or at least not to the extent that you take your daily real personal life seriously.

The tragedy is that nerds have no sense of balance, no sense that there are some things they should not take literally. And the message not to trust teachers too much is, of course, the one thing you can't teach. It's a real problem.

In conclusion, my reply to your comment might be this: the problem is not that nerds ask people out, and get rejected, it's that they bully themselves into never asking people out at all. If they did, sooner or later they would get lucky (as the kids say). They don't need, are not asking for, have never asked for, a foolproof system for getting girls. They would only like reassurance that asking girls out is allowed. If it is publicly admitted by everyone that asking a girl out is not necessarily a hate crime, then they will take their chances. So your Full Metal Jacket speech is true, but misses the point a little.

The thing I don't quite get here is why an arch-empiricist like Aaronson thought he had to swallow the claims that were presented to him as "feminism" wholesale. I'm interested in the US-style ID politics that you get here on Mefi (and earlier when I hung out more on LJ) in an anthropological sense and I have changed my views as a result of encountering it (particularly, finding out how common street harassment is was a real eye opener for me), but I don't quite get why at some point his bullshit detector didn't go off.

It's because nerds have malfunctioning bullshit detectors.
posted by officer_fred at 6:17 AM on December 30, 2014 [28 favorites]


I'm not entirely happy with saying that because Aaronson is uncomfortable with certain aspects of masculinity he has a lot in common with trans people. He seems uncomfortable with masculinity because he can't succeed at it - he's denied what he sees as the sweet fruits of being a dude, the ready access to sex and romance, the unquestioning comfort with himself in the world. If he were getting all the attention, social comfort, etc, that he feels he should have, he would not be questioning norms about masculinity. This seems like the opposite of gender non-conforming and trans people's experience - the distaste for the role itself or the desire to be something else is the driver, not the distaste for failing in the role. I mean, if society really had handed him Laurie Penny to work in the fields and bear his babies while he studied, he'd be over the moon, right?

I am also a little bit uncomfortable with the whole "he is on the spectrum therefore of course he needs a script and can't be expected to do his own research with any nuance" line of argument....If I had grown up as a boy, or if they had been diagnosing girls with autism, I suspect that I would have gotten some kind of learning disability diagnosis as a kid, presumably some kind of mild Asperger's. (And actually, I'm glad I didn't end up with a diagnosis - at my particular time and place, that would have made things much worse.) But my point is that when we are talking about relatively mild spectrum stuff, who gets diagnosed is itself political - it's much more common for white straight boys get diagnosed and excused for their behavior. Other people are rarely granted a narrative about why they aren't good at responding to others' social cues, because we are all expected to get good or get out of the way.

Obviously, this doesn't mean that Aaronson should not get whatever help he needs - but I am just a little wary of the whole "I am too brilliant and non-neurotypical to be able to be nice to people so I should not have to" narrative, because it is so rarely applied to anyone but white dudes.
posted by Frowner at 7:03 AM on December 30, 2014 [62 favorites]


Feminism is politics, and you're not supposed to actually take politics seriously, or at least not to the extent that you take your daily real personal life seriously.

And for those of us whose daily real personal life is constrained by sexism? Are we allowed to take feminism seriously?

Feminism is not just politics, and it's odd to try to dismiss it that way. The breakdown in the narrative you're describing actually comes from the assumption that feminism is all about fishes on bicycles. Someone superficially knowledgeable about feminism might jump to the erroneous conclusions you list, but learning more about it tends to quickly fix that.

The issue may be more that nerdy guys in STEM fields tend to look down on the humanities so much that they think reading one book or participating in a few online discussions about subjects in the humanities means that they have the whole picture of the field.
posted by jaguar at 7:28 AM on December 30, 2014 [28 favorites]


The thing I don't quite get here is why an arch-empiricist like Aaronson thought he had to swallow the claims that were presented to him as "feminism" wholesale.

Because, like the metaphorical drunk with the lamppost, he was looking for support, not illumination. As a few commentors noted, it's funny (and telling) that these people looking to "understand" feminism seem to gravitate to Dworkin. My guess is because she is both well known and fits the idea many people have of what "feminism" looks like. The fact that her particular branch of feminism has fallen out of favor for a number of reasons doesn't factor in to the analysis.

This thread actually has made me even more scared of my fellow human beings. I don't agree with any of his conclusions or solutions, but the disregard I am seeing from some for the feelings he has experienced as a shy person is one of the most distressing things I have ever witnessed on this site. I don't know if I can really identify with someone that can't empathize with his hurt.

Here's the thing - it's the fact that I've been where he has been that makes me less than sympathetic with his position. The argument that his pain somehow justifies his position rankles me, because I (and others) have gone through the same sort of pain, yet managed to figure out that hey, just because society isn't handing me what is in theory "my due" doesn't mean that I'm not, in fact, rather privileged - and that what I am told is "my due" is nothing of the sort. Nor is it justification for avoiding introspection.

In short, shy is not an excuse for being an asshole.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:43 AM on December 30, 2014 [22 favorites]


There is no "script" for being decent to other human beings. Life isn't a video game. It's risky, it's gray, people are weird and don't act as you expect them too, and that's how it is. We have developed various coping mechanisms to deal with things like heartbreak and loneliness, with varying levels of effectiveness, but in the end it's up to each of us to find whatever balance and happiness we can. Most of literature and art and religion is about that struggle in one way or another.

To demand that life present itself to you only in simplified terms that you can easily understand (or else you can never be blamed for doing things wrong) is beyond privileged, it is a kind of insanity.

Obviously, people with actual disabilities such as autism get a pass and get treated with understanding. But I don't buy that nerdy=disabled in that way. I don't think nerdiness (intelligence + introvertedness + awkwardness) makes you incapable of understanding other people's needs, emotions, or human interactions in general. You have a responsibility as a human being in this world to pay some attention to other human beings, if you want them to interact with you, anyway.

It can be difficult and painful, but what is also true is that people who lump humanity into simplified stereotypes like "jocks" and "nerds" are part of the problem themselves. It's excusable in a young person, to a certain extent, but a grown adult should move beyond such childish categories.
posted by emjaybee at 7:56 AM on December 30, 2014 [17 favorites]


thinking feminists are trying to paint them in to some catch 22 corner of gotchas where everything they do is wrong.
... This attitude isn't about being afraid of failure, it's about thinking you're smarter than the person you're talking to and being convinced ... that they're trying to spring a trap on you.


YES. Thank you for clarifying and validating why such complaints about feminism usually strike me as creepy and bad-faith.

Nthing that his choice of Dworkin as prototypical feminist reveals something screwed up. Even though Aaronson credits Dworkin-style feminism with causing him so much suffering -- which you'd think would help motivate him to seek out alternatives -- he's apparently never had a conversation with feminists who didn't sound like Dworkin, and/or never asked them what their favorite books are.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:21 AM on December 30, 2014 [10 favorites]


Obviously, people with actual disabilities such as autism get a pass and get treated with understanding.

I'm not trying to pick on you, emjaybee, but I've seen this sentiment expressed a couple times in this thread, and I don't think it's actually true, at least in terms of "getting a pass." It's going to depend on when someone's diagnosed of course, but there are a great many programs designed to help kids with autism learn social skills. They're not all good, and I assume there are issues with accessibility, but it's not like everyone just throws up their hands and says, "Oh, well, autism" and completely ignores a kid's social development.
posted by jaguar at 8:24 AM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Part of me thinks that the reason why self-described socially awkward nerdy guys are hostile to feminism is the same reason why I, as bullied ten year old, bullied other kids when I got the chance. Being victimized or disadvantaged doesn’t mean that you can't be an asshole, but it could mean that your insecurities make you more likely to lash out at people who you think are safe to antagonize.
posted by _cave at 8:29 AM on December 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


I don't think Aaronson is a shitheel. I read his blog regularly, he's generally pretty thoughtful and more interested in dialogue than in scoring points. I have a feeling that this is more of a case of not thinking about the issues too deeply before talking about them (which is basically the definition of privilege -- not having to think about it), and that being forced to confront other viewpoints might open his eyes a bit.
posted by empath at 8:34 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


But my point is that when we are talking about relatively mild spectrum stuff, who gets diagnosed is itself political - it's much more common for white straight boys get diagnosed and excused for their behavior. Other people are rarely granted a narrative about why they aren't good at responding to others' social cues, because we are all expected to get good or get out of the way.

QFT. If Scott were Susan, she wouldn't get any kind of pass on her behavior, because girls are supposed to be innately socially adept (and if they're not, they're creepy misfits to be shunned, not coddled). And if Scott were black - he'd be in jail or worse, because a socially awkward black man is Scary and Dangerous. Being white, male, and middle-class or above is the combination that will get you a free pass because autism.

I recall reading a discussion on, I think, the Captain Awkward blog, about the autism spectrum excuse for creepy men. Several of the commenters pointed out that one tell-tale giveaway of "creep" is that the creep can solidify/shore up his poor social boundaries with men and with any woman who has greater social power and can dole out consequences (his boss, his dentist, etc.). It's like with abusers - many abusers can rein in their tempers perfectly well at work and with authorities; they're only abusive to those they feel are inferior and "have" to take the abuse (children, spouses).

I take the "autism spectrum" excuse with a large grain of salt because of this. Many snowflakey creeps can have perfectly good boundaries with men and in situations where harassment can get them in big trouble. It's only with women that the boundaries come down.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:35 AM on December 30, 2014 [51 favorites]


> Feminism is politics, and you're not supposed to actually take politics seriously, or at least not to the extent that you take your daily real personal life seriously.

And for those of us whose daily real personal life is constrained by sexism? Are we allowed to take feminism seriously?

Feminism is not just politics, and it's odd to try to dismiss it that way. The breakdown in the narrative you're describing actually comes from the assumption that feminism is all about fishes on bicycles. Someone superficially knowledgeable about feminism might jump to the erroneous conclusions you list, but learning more about it tends to quickly fix that.

The issue may be more that nerdy guys in STEM fields tend to look down on the humanities so much that they think reading one book or participating in a few online discussions about subjects in the humanities means that they have the whole picture of the field.


That was a very bad way for me to put it. I was being very glib, and you were right to pick up on that. If I can try again, what I meant is something like this:

From his original comment, it seems like teenage SA was searching feminist literature for... something like... permission to flirt with girls. Not surprisingly, he didn't find any. I don't think I could easily find any, either. Instead he found lots of eloquent literature about the ways in which men hurt women. As he says:

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

My idea for a good reply to that would be: Stop looking for reassurance in feminist literature. That is not its job. You should not expect feminism to help you with all of your own stupid personal problems. But that's okay, because your belief that feminism contains all possible wisdom about life is also wrong. Feminism is a political movement that has a lot of important things to say, but it's not some kind of total ideology that is supposed to apply to everything. Common sense should tell you that asking girls out is perfectly okay, and that should be enough, you shouldn't need permission from feminism also.
posted by officer_fred at 8:37 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Dfan: In multiple threads about the case, I saw more than one person who knew Lewin at least casually for decades say that they were not surprised.

This runs completely counter to any threads I have read. By all accounts I have seen, Walter Lewin is an incredibly popular professor among former students and faculty alike.

Could you maybe link something, anything at all, that contributed to this impression that this guy might be a serial harasser? Because my understanding is that there was ONE complaint in October of this year, about ONLINE sexual harassment, regarding communication over MITx, the open forum MIT uses to disseminate lectures, course materials, etc.

The New York Times backs this impression up:
Walter Lewin, a physicist with a distinguished teaching career, “engaged in online sexual harassment.” As a result, the university said, it has revoked his status as professor emeritus and removed his lecture videos and other course material from OpenCourseWare and edEx, the online learning platform started by Harvard and M.I.T. In a statement Monday, the university said it received a complaint in October from an online learner who provided information about Dr. Lewin’s interactions with her and other women online.
I am working on a post about this, actually, so I'd appreciate any relevant material. But, as I said, so far everything I have seen on this runs counter to your assertion.
posted by misha at 8:38 AM on December 30, 2014


However, I believe that, if you ranked the social problems of the modern West by the ratio of how many lives they ruin to how many people are willing to discuss them as actual social problems, then “the problem of the nerdy heterosexual male” would be close to the top

Jesus Christ, this is cringe-worthy. As a nerdy hetero male who went through pure hell in high school, I mean wow. That's just jaw droppingly clueless.
posted by empath at 8:39 AM on December 30, 2014 [12 favorites]


I think that would result in a divide by zero error.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:41 AM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


This runs completely counter to any threads I have read. By all accounts I have seen, Walter Lewin is an incredibly popular professor among former students and faculty alike.

...you do realize that "popular person" and "serial sexual harasser" are far from mutually exclusive, right? And just because there was one complaint that cracked the dam now doesn't mean that there isn't a problem - I'd recommend looking up the concept of the missing stair for more.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:47 AM on December 30, 2014 [16 favorites]


Aaronson's posted a followup.
posted by dfan at 8:51 AM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am sad that, even in this calm discussion, some men here have felt that the rhetoric of “figure it out for yourself” is hateful.

It isn’t hate. It is entirely the voice of experience, because most non-white-non-dudes have spent lifetimes figuring out how to navigate a world that is not entirely friendly to their desires and experiences.

He wants a cheat code? Many straight, cis, relatively wealthy white men live through life with a series of BUILT IN cheat codes. People defer to them from the time they are born. They are given things (authority, trust, access, a voice, the right to preferences) early and often. No one blames them for that! I do not blame the adorable toddlers who run around and get called “adorable” instead of “disruptive” for anything. (I know one of them. He made me a drawing with an octopus on it. I love him and I wish him well, but I can also see that he is able to act in ways that other children are not. I can think of at least five things he does in public on a regular basis that I have seen little girls in the same social group be reprimanded for.) I do not blame 8 year old boys who speak more in class because no one has ever told them to stop. I do not blame 12 year old boys, or 16 year old boys, or 18 year old men, or 25 year old men, or 33 year old men, or men of any age for the fact that they are given constant, unearned steps up. What can a child do to “earn” charitable interpretations of his behavior? Nothing. Our culture gives it freely. I don’t want them to be punished. I don’t want good things taken away.

But, as the very title of this post suggests, those extra boosts don’t mean misery never comes. It means certain kinds of misery tend to come to this group (in the aggregate), and that the ones that do surface in an otherwise blessed life are magnified tenfold into unimaginable burdens. I WANTED TO TALK TO A GIRL AND I DID NOT KNOW HOW is only an acute and life-shattering pain in a life that has been relatively sheltered from more grievous forms of suffering. I FELT LONELY AND I AM SURE THAT I DESERVED BETTER is only a form of persecution if you ignore the thousands of ways in which the world shields you from more devastating burdens. I WAS TOLD I DESERVED LOVE AND SEX AND WAS GIVEN NONE is a source of longstanding heartbreak only for those who never have any reason to question the accuracy of whether or not anyone can be owed anything other than not-harm from other humans.

His response (and that of many other men, even those I love and respect) seems to boil down to “I can’t figure out these rules, this is too hard,” but it is being said in this instance to people (women) who are used to the rules being hard. Women are used to being constantly aware that any person could suddenly lash out and hurt you for no reason. Women are used to feeling dangerously vulnerable. Women are used to being laughed at for incredibly small and meaningless failures. Women are used to being told that we only deserve love and respect if we meet incredibly exacting and constantly shifting requirements, and that even if we get it we can lose it at any time (“of course he cheated, she let herself go”/ “do you really think the promises men make in bed mean anything?” / “she left to have a baby and she thinks she gets to prance back in like she’s still in charge?” are examples of narratives we hear daily).

I have sincere, actual sympathy with men who have experienced the sorrows of loneliness. But when those men refuse to look outside their own experiences and learn that others are coping with sorrows that come with equal or greater dangers on a daily basis, then I begin to wonder why they are so reluctant to absorb even a little of the psychic burden currently resting on the rest of the world. I begin to wonder why someone like Aaronson thinks it is fairer for me to remain perpetually unsafe than for him to do some of the emotional and interpersonal legwork to lessen my burden. When men respond to “women are not all the same, some of them like being talked to in a coffee shop and some of them do not” with “UGH, this is IMPOSSIBLE, how am I EVER GOING TO FIND LOVE” instead of “oh wow, thanks, I’ll try to be more mindful of every individual human having specific comfort levels in public,” I don’t think he’s actually just clueless anymore. I think he’s outsourcing the inherent difficulty of human interaction to other people.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:52 AM on December 30, 2014 [80 favorites]


I believe that, just as there are shy, nerdy men, there are also shy, nerdy women, who likewise suffer from feeling unwanted, sexually invisible, or ashamed to express their desires. On top of that, these women also have additional difficulties that come with being women! At the same time, I also think there are crucial differences between the two cases—at least in the world as it currently exists—which might make the shy-nerdy-male problem vastly harder to solve than the shy-nerdy-female one. Those differences, and my advice for shy nerdy females, will be the subject of another post.

Oh dear.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:54 AM on December 30, 2014 [22 favorites]


I think the reason that this kind of woe-is-me-human-interaction-is-hard-and-I-might-do-it-wrong almost exclusively comes from white "nerdy" males is that that's the main sort of person with both the inclination and the luxury to ignore it until puberty. Little brown kids don't get to perform "nerdy," mostly, or at least not have it read as such unambiguously. Girls are always pushed to be "nice". White guys who can easily perform conventional masculinity do.

So you suffer because you're privileged enough to not have to do things you don't want to, but then it turns out you have hormones and you want things that can only come from other humans, and you don't know how to get them.
posted by PMdixon at 8:58 AM on December 30, 2014 [13 favorites]


misha: The threads I read were the comments on the MIT Tech article and Aaronson's blog post. I read them weeks ago and it would take a while to trawl through them all again but it sounds like you are doing that already.

By the way, I don't see a contradiction at all (in general now, not talking about Lewin in particular) between being "an incredibly popular professor" and "a serial harasser".
posted by dfan at 9:03 AM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


PMdixon: In my experience a lot of the shy nerdy types face a great risk of bullying from their peers during those years. That doesn't quite match with your presumption of immunity from difficulties of human interaction.
posted by Anything at 9:04 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


There is no "script" for being decent to other human beings. Life isn't a video game. It's risky, it's gray, people are weird and don't act as you expect them too, and that's how it is.

Life is definitely a roguelike.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:05 AM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Feminism is politics, and you're not supposed to actually take politics seriously, or at least not to the extent that you take your daily real personal life seriously.

Politics is deadly serious business for women because our blood is on the hands of elected officials all over the world. That you are personally inured from the "daily real personal life" ramifications of these machinations by virtue of your birth sex does not mean "you're not supposed to actually take politics or feminism seriously." It doesn't mean much of anything except that you happen to have been born with the luxury of ignoring it.

They don't need, are not asking for, have never asked for, a foolproof system for getting girls. They would only like reassurance that asking girls out is allowed. If it is publicly admitted by everyone that asking a girl out is not necessarily a hate crime, then they will take their chances. If it is publicly admitted by everyone that asking a girl out is not necessarily a hate crime, then they will take their chances.

I realize the best option in this situation is to refrain from commenting at all, but I would say this in person, too: You've got to be kidding me. Can you point me to even one person who insists that "asking girls out" is disallowed? And cripes, but "hate crime" is hyperbole of the worst order, unflattering to your interlocutors, and totally disrespectful of the idea that women are people. Literally no one, anywhere, at any time, has described "asking a girl out" as "necessarily a hate crime." Except you. All we're saying is that there's a time and place for everything, up to and including asking someone out, and women don't really want, let alone deserve, to be hit on by randoms whenever we dare to leave the house. I get that some dudes think that's just the price we need to pay for, I guess, choosing to have been born female? and that women are indeed socialized to suck up a whole bunch of shit with a smile, but no, we're people, too, we get to draw our own boundaries, and men don't get to trample them just because they think it's too hard to figure out how to treat women like thinking, feeling, individual human beings instead of a morass of puzzle boxes with sex treats inside.

Not to mention the fact that these strawkward dudes tend to seem to understand their boundaries with other men very well, so it's always weird when they can't seem to imagine affording women the same courtesy out of basic human respect. I'm kidding! That they seem to forget boundaries altogether when it comes to interacting with a woman-object is not at all a coincidence. (Spoiler alert: It's because they've been socialized to understand that men are whole people who should be treated as such, but woman-things are cyphers for sex itself and/or unfeeling vessels into which all discomfort and awkwardness may be poured unilaterally and without consequence, because emotional maintenance and self-sacrifice is women's work!)

For real, read this (linked by skye.dancer above) and tell me again how this guy just needed some kind of assurance that asking a girl out isn't necessarily a hate crime. This is part of his proposed dialogue FOR A SEMINAR ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT PREVENTION:
"So speaking in my official capacity, on behalf of the Campus Sexual-Assault Prevention Center, the University Feminist Alliance, the President, the Provost, and the Board of Trustees: if you meet a girl you like, then I hereby give you my formal sanction to ask her out on a date. If she says no, you should move on. But if she says yes, and the date goes well, then—always asking and waiting for enthusiastic consent—I also formally sanction you to try to take things to the next step. No, I do more than sanction you: I all but order you to do this. If you see yourself as a decent human being, I say you’re ethically obligated to. For if you don't ask, then for all you know, you might be denying some poor girl one of the greatest pleasures of her life—and how could you do that? What kind of person are you, anyway?"
No words.

Feminism is a political movement that has a lot of important things to say, but it's not some kind of total ideology that is supposed to apply to everything. Common sense should tell you that asking girls out is perfectly okay, and that should be enough, you shouldn't need permission from feminism also.

Buh? Feminism is a total ideology that does apply to everything. Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. But as Penny so wisely stated, and as Aaronson exemplifies, there's a huge swath of dudes in the world who just don't operate under that assumption at all. There's nothing common or sensible about it.
posted by divined by radio at 9:06 AM on December 30, 2014 [33 favorites]


PMdixon: In my experience a lot of the shy nerdy types face a great risk of bullying from their peers during those years. That doesn't quite match with your presumption of immunity from difficulties of human interaction.

I guess immunity is a strong word. "Have needs/externally imposed requirements that can only be met thru such interaction in a non-trivially skilled manner."
posted by PMdixon at 9:07 AM on December 30, 2014


PMdixon:
"So you suffer because you're privileged enough to not have to do things you don't want to, but then it turns out you have hormones and you want things that can only come from other humans, and you don't know how to get them."
You just articulated what I've been trying to figure out about my "not a single girlfriend until 32" life. I remember, as a senior in high school, being derisively laughed at by my father saying, "You wouldn't even know what to do with a girlfriend." It stung because he was right.
posted by charred husk at 9:10 AM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


From his update: 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?

I was a baby lesbian. I was one of those kids who knew from the earliest years that I was different. Paralyzing fear? Check. Despair that I would probably die alone and unloved? Check? Afraid of rejection and public humiliation if I asked the wrong person out? GODDAMN CHECK.

Sorry you thought you were special in some way, Scott, for being afraid and shy and awkward. Sorry you got brought up believing that.
posted by rtha at 9:11 AM on December 30, 2014 [49 favorites]


The thing is, I would have a lot more sympathy with Aaronson if these were conversations he was having with close friends rather than blogular authoritativing. "I am in pain and I am sad, friend, can we talk through my feelings with the understanding that they are just my feelings" is a lot more sympathetic than blogging about something like this while wearing his professor hat.

At the same time, I also think there are crucial differences between the two cases—at least in the world as it currently exists—which might make the shy-nerdy-male problem vastly harder to solve than the shy-nerdy-female one. Those differences, and my advice for shy nerdy females, will be the subject of another post.

Oh, I can't wait for the next post, can you?

Perhaps you would also be interested in my upcoming post about why white nerds face more struggles than nerds of color, and why nerds with health insurance and steady jobs actually face more struggles than nerds without. I'm sure you'll be interested in my views about your existence, especially the provocative and intellectually challenging ways in which they contradict your lived experience!

Seriously, what is it with these guys? I have met so many male intellectuals who - leaving all other aspects of their beliefs aside - really, truly believe that they can lecture you on your own experience and feelings about it plus helpfully correct your intellectual errors.
posted by Frowner at 9:11 AM on December 30, 2014 [51 favorites]


Seriously, what is it with these guys? I have met so many male intellectuals who - leaving all other aspects of their beliefs aside - really, truly believe that they can lecture you on your own experience and feelings about it plus helpfully correct your intellectual errors.

It's actually a common problem for autistic people, to have difficulty distinguishing between personal conversations and lectures.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:14 AM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


I am at the point with people who claim to be 'on the spectrum', that I am going to demand a doctors note or I'm just going to continue to think they're assholes.
posted by empath at 9:16 AM on December 30, 2014 [14 favorites]


Common sense should tell you that asking girls out is perfectly okay, and that should be enough, you shouldn't need permission from feminism also.

What is this "common sense" you speak of? Common to who? There are many cultures that do not feature "asking out". Western society has been this way for great periods of its history. Understanding when it's appropriate to approach a possible romantic interest is context-dependent, and something that must be learned. Most of us learn by trial and error, but for a significant subset of the nerdy population that are internally predisposed towards rules and algorithms, the fear of error is so horrifying that they don't go through the trials. SA apparently had the awareness to know that he didn't know what to do, and wanted help. The responses here that condemn him for wanting to know how to acquire social skills that make life enjoyable for the rest of us are... well, pretty ugly.
posted by amorphatist at 9:17 AM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]



It's actually a common problem for autistic people, to have difficulty distinguishing between personal conversations and lectures.


And it's a common problem for people with anxiety disorder to respond to someone's predicted reaction instead of their actual one. It's a common problem for people with depression to catastrophize basic everyday tasks.

So what? Really, what is the point here?
posted by PMdixon at 9:18 AM on December 30, 2014 [10 favorites]


I don't think wanting to acquire social skills is a bad thing, but I don't think it should be the point of a seminar on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, especially when that workplace is a university.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:19 AM on December 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


The responses here that condemn him for wanting to know how to acquire social skills that make life enjoyable for the rest of us are... well, pretty ugly.

No one is condemning him for wanting to acquire them. But when people repeatedly tell him that they are complicated and hard for everyone and his response is "no, they are hardest for people exactly like me", then people not like him are going to begin to bristle.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:20 AM on December 30, 2014 [22 favorites]


The thing that really convinced me about this gender and race business was taking an implicit-association test (wiki). It's like advertising in that everyone wants to believe they're immune, but they're not.
posted by yaymukund at 9:20 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Common to who?

Common to a guy who was brought up in late 20th century America, not 17th century anyplace else.

He (and many other people) seem to be under the impression that if the response to their pain is not a solid "oh, honey, there there, it'll be okay," that it must be because we don't understand what they went through or are going through. I understand it fine, and it's not my duty to "there, there" him when what I expect is for him to actually tangle with the fact that he's not a special snowflake and that people who understand his experience just fine are going to disagree with how he's approaching it.
posted by rtha at 9:24 AM on December 30, 2014 [24 favorites]


I am at the point with people who claim to be 'on the spectrum', that I am going to demand a doctors note or I'm just going to continue to think they're assholes.

Your neurotypical privilege is showing.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:25 AM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am at the point with people who claim to be 'on the spectrum', that I am going to demand a doctors note or I'm just going to continue to think they're assholes.
posted by empath at 9:16 AM on December 30


Must be some nice privilege you have there that you can demand that. Will you also be demanding doctors' notes from those here who are trans, or who suffered abuse? Blood samples for those claiming to be POC?

But when people repeatedly tell him that they are complicated and hard for everyone and his response is "no, they are hardest for people exactly like me"

Where did he claim that exactly? And from his telling, he actually did have a really hard time (requesting chemical castration... though we haven't seen the doctor's note yet), so does he actually need to win (lose?) the intersectionality olympics to be able to earn any empathy? Or is he by default excluded, no matter how hellish his internal life was, because he was a nerdy white teenager?
posted by amorphatist at 9:25 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


No one is condemning him for wanting to acquire them. But when people repeatedly tell him that they are complicated and hard for everyone and his response is "no, they are hardest for people exactly like me", then people not like him are going to begin to bristle.

Not to mention people who are like him, but put the effort in to develop that particular skillset (and thus know how hard it actually is to develop them.)

As rtha pointed out, he's not the only person who has ever dealt with with those sorts of feelings - and it gets a tad offensive when he tries to use them as a defense.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:27 AM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


So what? Really, what is the point here?

I dunno. Frowner asked what was with them. Aaronson's autistic, so I answered her question in the way that seemed relevant to context.

I'm not terribly interested in defending Aaronson, but it seems like there are people here who at least want to understand where he's coming from, and I saw a way to help with that.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:28 AM on December 30, 2014


>his response is "no, they are hardest for people exactly like me"

Where did he claim that exactly?


"I also think there are crucial differences between the two cases—at least in the world as it currently exists—which might make the shy-nerdy-male problem vastly harder to solve than the shy-nerdy-female one."
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:29 AM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


It's actually a common problem for autistic people, to have difficulty distinguishing between personal conversations and lectures.

It's pretty common for any man to do this too.
posted by maxsparber at 9:35 AM on December 30, 2014 [31 favorites]


But there are ways of acquiring social skills - or at least an awareness of common social boundaries - that don't involve sexual harassment: therapy, Toastmasters, mixed-gender meet-ups that take place in public, church/temple, etc. So I'm skeptical of the "I caaaaaan't" excuse. I know how much harder it is for people with anxiety disorders, but, again - that's what therapy and medication are for. Aronson is privileged enough to have access to the therapy and medication that he seems to badly need. Surely he has friends and/or family willing to offer some mentorship in social skills? He is not a helpless victim.

I feel much sorrier for people who, due to poverty and/or other bad circumstances, want to develop social skills and good boundaries but can't access the therapy, medication, or mentors that they need. Another privilege that someone in Aronson's position has is the ability to access professional help.

(All that said, I do wish that social skills were better taught in childhood, whether in schools or other programs accessible to all children. Not everyone has the privilege [again!] of being raised by socially-skilled parents who can be good role models. Other children are terrible teachers, as they do not have the developmental or cognitive skills that adults have. So, yes, basic social skills training rather than leaving kids at the mercy of one another would be an excellent thing.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:36 AM on December 30, 2014 [17 favorites]


One of the hardest lessons for me to learn growing up was that nobody was responsible for my happiness but myself. If you are a horny young nerd there is no inalienable right to sex, there is no playbook, there are no alphabro cheat codes. Patriarchy provided access in the past to women but guess what we are trying to evolve as a species and yep that means that we need to accept that potential partners be they women, men, etc deserve to be treated as humans with the agency to decide for themselves.

What I feel is so damaging about SA's commentary is that he's obviously an extremely smart person and he should be able to look from a perspective outside of his own and realize that nobody owed him sex and happiness and that while adolescence is often soul crushingly difficult for young white male nerds who are suddenly forced to realize that being the smartest kid in class doesn't men that women automatically have sex with you aren't suddenly going to the top of the heap of misery.

Wishing for a time when you just had to be a smart kid in the Shetl just compounds it because it's wishing for a time when yes your life would've been easier but at the cost of someone else's life being quite a bit harder.

I'm very encouraged by a ton of white male nerd coming out in this thread and saying "yeah this was me too and for a long time I thought this way but eventually something changed my perspective" because that's how stuff changes and gets better and how people move from being people that say they "support" feminism to people that are actual allies. Once you get the blinders off about how the popular guys and girls made your formative years hell and realize that they were dancing the same patriarchy enforced gender roles that you were you can really find some compassion for yourself and the world around you and more importantly you can begin to see how to make the world better for the next generation of SAs and young female nerds so that they don't have to deal with the same level of shit that we had to deal with. And isn't that what it's all essentially about? Trying to make the world a better place for the next generation?
posted by vuron at 9:41 AM on December 30, 2014 [12 favorites]


Most people are not autistic, in the same way that most people are not clinically anxious or depressed.

Explaining systemic problems as a result of these mental health issues comes across as excuse making, scapegoating, and deflection, at least to me.
posted by PMdixon at 9:41 AM on December 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


>his response is "no, they are hardest for people exactly like me"

Where did he claim that exactly?

"I also think there are crucial differences between the two cases—at least in the world as it currently exists—which might make the shy-nerdy-male problem vastly harder to solve than the shy-nerdy-female one."


That sentence does not equate to "no, they are hardest for people exactly like me".

As rtha pointed out, he's not the only person who has ever dealt with with those sorts of feelings - and it gets a tad offensive when he tries to use them as a defense.

There's a curious symmetry between gators with the "we were bullied, gaming is the only thing we have, ewww girls and jocks", almost a "lump of gametime" fallacy, and certain SJW types (here and elsewhere) who find it a tad offensive when a (ewww) white male comes along, and tries to use the same tools to understand and analyze their experience and interactions. I don't know if it's just visceral distaste based on skin and gender, or fear that all the empathy will be used up by these white males claiming they didn't actually enjoy all the privilege they were undeservedly handed. Perhaps the "lump of oppression" fallacy?
posted by amorphatist at 9:42 AM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


a fiendish thingy:

It's not a 100% clear from the text what exactly he means, but note that there's a distinction between a) 'feels worse or has worse effects on group X than on group Y' and b) 'might be harder to solve (on a societal level?) for group X than for group Y'. Are you reading him as saying 'a)'? For what it's worth, I'm not.

Not that you couldn't strongly object to 'b)' as well, but I'd expect that to be not quite as sensitive an issue.
posted by Anything at 9:44 AM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Most people are not autistic, in the same way that most people are not clinically anxious or depressed.

Explaining systemic problems as a result of these mental health issues comes across as excuse making, scapegoating, and deflection, at least to me.


The proportion of school age boys diagnosed with some issue is very high. 1 in 9 of 11-14 year olds for ADD alone. I suspect the number of boys (and girls) with some form of mental health issue or learning disability is greater than 50%. Kids need special attention, all of them, regardless of if they have identifiable issues or not. I don't think it's deflection to embrace identifying and treating the issues when they can be found.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:47 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


often soul crushingly difficult for young white male nerds who are suddenly forced to realize that being the smartest kid in class doesn't men that women automatically have sex with you aren't suddenly going to the top of the heap of misery.

I think it's driven into nerdy people's minds very early on that smarts means women won't want to have sex with you. These kids start out with few friends, and never make more and by the time they're in middle school, they're pretty sure they're going to be alone and outcast their entire life. That they are weak, annoying, unlovable, boring. So they over compensate, build up walls, get competitive about everything, try to be smarter than everyone so they can prove to themselves that if they can't be loved by people, they are at least 'better' than them by some objective measure. It's a vortex of misunderstanding and misery and it's really hard to find your way out of it. It takes a lot of hard work and self-reflection to turn it around.
posted by empath at 9:51 AM on December 30, 2014 [16 favorites]


certain SJW types (here and elsewhere) who find it a tad offensive when a (ewww) white male comes along, and tries to use the same tools to understand and analyze their experience and interactions

For what it's worth, this is not what I find "offensive" about his analysis. What I specifically object to is his apparent assumption that his white-male-nerd insecurity and its effects are somehow special and unique, and that anyone who disagrees with his analysis just doesn't understand it. I certainly don't find offensive his attempt to view life through a feminist lens.
posted by rtha at 9:55 AM on December 30, 2014 [20 favorites]


I certainly don't find offensive his attempt to view life through a feminist lens.

More the fact that he's got it backwards...
posted by PMdixon at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's a curious symmetry between gators with the "we were bullied, gaming is the only thing we have, ewww girls and jocks", almost a "lump of gametime" fallacy, and certain SJW types (here and elsewhere) who find it a tad offensive when a (ewww) white male comes along, and tries to use the same tools to understand and analyze their experience and interactions. I don't know if it's just visceral distaste based on skin and gender, or fear that all the empathy will be used up by these white males claiming they didn't actually enjoy all the privilege they were undeservedly handed. Perhaps the "lump of oppression" fallacy.

No, I find it offensive as a cis hetero white male who went through a lot of what he went through as well that he is using his past as justification for not actually engaging in the introspection needed to get past those issues. He's trying to say "don't you understand how much pain I was in?", not realizing that yes, I do - and I know how much of it winds up being self-inflicted. Not to mention that I also understand how you can suffer while still getting a massive leg up in society.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


I don't think most people that examine structures of privilege and oppression are going to suggest that people are undeserving of the rights and status that they have in our society but that all people should experience those same rights and status. This is of course speaking generally, privilege of the sort which is predicated on the othering of other people or that puts one group in an advantaged spot at the cost of another group should be eliminated when possible.

I think most people are perfectly willing to let straight white nerd males use the tools that have been developed to understand privilege and oppression be applied to their experiences it's just that when you take those tools and somehow get out an answer that "nerds have it worst" I'm going to have to ask you to show your work because I'm pretty sure you didn't plug the right values into the formula...

I also think that if you use feminism as a tool to classify your fellow humans into buckets like neanderthals and the women who love them I'm pretty sure you also made an error somewhere.

I understand that a lot of hard sciences people tend to discount what they cannot see but I don't think it's really that much of a stretch to posit the existence of an underlying social structure that socializes humans to act in very specific ways. No I don't think there is a grand patriarchal conspiracy of old white straight males trying to keep people down but I do think that there is 2000+ years of judeo-christian moral values and western philosophy and culture that keeps a huger percentage of us shackled into really negative gender and sex roles and examining those structures and if possible amending or replacing them with more equitable structures is very advantageous to us all.

That's why it's critically important that smart white male nerd "get it" because they typically hold the keys to the kingdom where people can make long term systemic changes because white male nerds are the gatekeepers to academia, silicon valley, finance structure, faith structures, etc. It's only when we are able to convince people like SA to look beyond their past and embrace the possibility of a better future that we can make positive changes. I'd be happy if SA could become and ally but right now his viewpoint is just another one standing in the way of true social progress.
posted by vuron at 9:58 AM on December 30, 2014 [15 favorites]


I went to the MIT EE faculty page and counted. 65 men. 20 women. The department looks like it is doing a little better than Associate Professor Aaronson.

Here is the page if you want to check on my tally.

(By the way any time they sort in alpabetical order Scott gets to come out on top.)
posted by bukvich at 9:59 AM on December 30, 2014


Nine bulletpointed beliefs posted in response, not one of them says "I believe that male privilege exists."

Incredible.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:04 AM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


What I specifically object to is his apparent assumption that his white-male-nerd insecurity and its effects are somehow special and unique,

Is that your assumption or his?

I think most people are perfectly willing to let straight white nerd males use the tools that have been developed to understand privilege and oppression be applied to their experiences it's just that when you take those tools and somehow get out an answer that "nerds have it worst" I'm going to have to ask you to show your work because I'm pretty sure you didn't plug the right values into the formula...

You're the one that needs to show your work to get to SA believing that "nerds have it worst". It sounds like he suffered significantly in his teenage years. That does not diminish anybody else's suffering. Again, is this the lump of oppression fallacy?
posted by amorphatist at 10:05 AM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


I believe that, if you ranked the social problems of the modern West by the ratio of how many lives they ruin to how many people are willing to discuss them as actual social problems, then “the problem of the nerdy heterosexual male” would surely be close to the top—the more so, if you weight the problems by how likely academics like me are to know the sufferers and to feel a personal stake in helping them.

Yeah, this... is not impressing me. Not only does it show a rather shocking lack of empathy, but his math trick of comparing the plight of the nerdy heterosexual male with the number of "people willing to discuss" it suggests to me that he's well aware that objective measures would demolish his argument. Plus, anyone with a passing familiarity with internet comments sections would quickly realize that the number of people willing to discuss (or, rather, assert) how bad nerdy men have it is hardly insignificant.

Additionally,I think that, as an academic in a STEM field, he would notice that a huge proportion of academics are quite ready to help nerdy white men advance (often at the expense of women and people of color). Now that "nerdy white male network" is not well situated to get a heterosexual man a date, so maybe that's the real problem, but imagining that he doesn't have significant privilege (despite his very real sorrows) is part of his problem.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:08 AM on December 30, 2014 [17 favorites]


Do you have any idea how many papers people have written on how gendered behavioral expectations cause suffering to men? I promise you, Aaronson is not breaking new ground here. He's in fact enacting the usual physicist failure to read the literature before spouting off about something outside his expertise.
posted by PMdixon at 10:09 AM on December 30, 2014 [20 favorites]


Nobody is discounting his suffering. What we take issue with is how he's using it as a shield to attempt to deflect some serious questions about his lack of understanding of privilege. He outright argues that he couldn't be privileged when he was a teenager, because look at how he was suffering. Which is absolutely wrong.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:12 AM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


It's pretty common for any man to do this too.

I think you're referring to mansplaining. Aaronson is surely doing that, but since we are speculating about his motives, I also think it possible that he's either autistic, or socialized into behaving thus--professors have an archetype of being sexless scientist monks. When you're living in such a role, lecturing everyone all the time is likely to work fine for you. Aaronson's honestly believing that his emotional issues deserve the same treatment may be a product of that, as well as male privilege.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:14 AM on December 30, 2014


I just...I remember feeling the same way about race as he writes about gender in his response post. "I tried so hard to be committed to anti-racism only to be rejected and criticized....Can't you see that you're tearing me apart" etc. Looking back on that phase, I thank my lucky stars that I did not have a blog, because I was such a fool.

It's a question of emphasis not content that seems to be throwing him. It's okay to feel bad when you read Andrea Dworkin. It's okay to feel that sometimes feminists are assholes, because sometimes feminists are assholes. There are many times and places where it's appropriate to talk about your teenage years and how they haunt you still - god knows, mine haunt me, too. He seems to be framing all those things as forbidden things that the Powerful Feminists Of The Internet will punish him for, but actually it's just that there are times and places for those feelings, and particular hats that one is best off wearing when one writes about them.
posted by Frowner at 10:16 AM on December 30, 2014 [16 favorites]


I also think it possible that he's either autistic, or socialized into behaving thus

It's possible, but bad form to diagnose from a distance, and I never blame mental illness for what I can credit to mere cluelessness and privilege.
posted by maxsparber at 10:16 AM on December 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


Do you have any idea how many papers people have written on how the gendered behavioral expectations cause suffering to men?

Yes! And all you have to do is go into Google Scholar and do a search - you don't even have to be an academic to find them! Many, if not most, of these papers are also written by - dun dun - feminists! Feminists (not all, but many) have been very interested in the question of how gendered behavior expectations affect and oppress men. And have been very critical of them.

I can't find the reference now, but a paper was published in some social science journal showing that feminists had happier relationships and, yes, more sex. It's par for the course that the Aronsons of the world blame the meanie feminists for their troubles, but it's feminists who want to draw attention to all the ways that the patriarchy damages men.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:17 AM on December 30, 2014 [14 favorites]


Do you have any idea how many papers people have written on how gendered behavioral expectations cause suffering to men? I promise you, Aaronson is not breaking new ground here. He's in fact enacting the usual physicist failure to read the literature before spouting off about something outside his expertise.

Hell, one of the great feminist mantras (which he would have discovered had his exploration not begun and ended with Dworkin) is The Patriarchy Hurts Men As Well. This is such an important point that it's a key part of the patriarchy/kyriarchy debate (and I tend to favor the latter in large part because of that.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:18 AM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's surely relevant to Aaronson's experience that he went to college when he was 15.
posted by escabeche at 10:19 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


If a middle-aged government employee stands at the front of a classroom and tells them that learning trigonometry is important to their future, they will believe it, as crazy as that seems.

I actually saw Aaronson give a great seminar earlier this year which involved trigonometry in a crucial way, so maybe this isn't the right example...
posted by escabeche at 10:20 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Nobody is discounting his suffering. What we take issue with is how he's using it as a shield to attempt to deflect some serious questions about his lack of understanding of privilege. He outright argues that he couldn't be privileged when he was a teenager, because look at how he was suffering. Which is absolutely wrong.

I think one thing that might be hard for people to recognize is that privilege means he can have a successful life despite his suffering and bad luck as a youth. He's married, recognized in his field, works at MIT, etc. Most people would say he's 'made it'. Someone from a less privileged background who had a bad experience in childhood will often not get a chance to recover from it. Because they're dead, or in jail, or had to quit school to support their family, or got ignored by teachers who assumed they weren't smart enough to figure out the subject, etc.
posted by empath at 10:21 AM on December 30, 2014 [26 favorites]



It's surely relevant to Aaronson's experience that he went to college when he was 15.


How old would he have married in his titular shtetl?
posted by PMdixon at 10:21 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it's driven into nerdy people's minds very early on that smarts means women won't want to have sex with you.

I was an extremely nerdy kid and can understand a lot of the alienation such kids feel, but a) there were always other nerdy kids around, and b) some of them were girls.

It's hard to square these two perspectives, except by noting that nerdy teenage boys are often very bad at noticing nerdy teenage girls.
posted by zompist at 10:24 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's surely relevant to Aaronson's experience that he went to college when he was 15.

To some degree, but I think it mainly illustrates the issues with the argument that students should be grouped by educational level as opposed to age. We tend to forget that school serves a social function as well as a pedagogical one.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:26 AM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


From Aaronson's update:

How to help all the young male nerds I meet who suffer from this problem, in a way that passes feminist muster, and that triggers the world’s sympathy rather than outrage, is a problem that interests me as much as P vs. NP

I wish this problem were reformulated. Like, that this guy, who says he had hoped that "no one will ever again be able to question the depth of my feminist ideals", planned to solve the problem in a way that contributes to feminist projects.

His mission statement reminds me of the recent Metafilter post about how often white people (including me, irritatingly) want to be certified as 'good white people', and let that goal distract us from figuring out how to do productive work on antiracism.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:29 AM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


> "Aaronson's autistic, so I answered her question in the way that seemed relevant to context."

I could be wrong, but I don't think Aaronson has ever said he was autistic or on the autism spectrum. A few people here have postulated that he *might* be based on such things as his preference for clearly formulated systems.
posted by kyrademon at 10:38 AM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


It is sad that he feels like he isn't given empathy for his tough childhood, but as MANY people above state - it is hard to give empathy to someone who seems blind to giving to others. It is a two way street and it behooves the more privileged of us to shut up and listen.

I DO have sympathy for how hard it is to examine yourself and SHUT UP and LISTEN. Like feral_goldfish, I understand how we want to get a ethical/feminist/non-racist gold star and not have to think about it anymore. I struggle with this.

My personal theory is that the middle class or rich white people have been told their whole lives that they are smart and that they should PARTICIPATE and that their voice is valued. We are not taught that our discourse could be disrespectful and harmful to minority voices. By talking about ourselves, we drown out other voices and fail to cultivate our empathy and understanding of those who are oppressed in our society.
posted by Gor-ella at 10:38 AM on December 30, 2014 [10 favorites]


I think it's driven into nerdy people's minds very early on that smarts means women won't want to have sex with you.

It's driven into nerdy boys' minds that girls won't want to have sex with them. It's also driven into nerdy girls' minds that boys won't want to have sex with them, and also that they shouldn't want to have sex anyway because then they'd be sluts, but also that they should want to have sex because otherwise they'd be frigid bitches, and on and on in an endless loop.

I was an extremely nerdy kid and can understand a lot of the alienation such kids feel, but a) there were always other nerdy kids around, and b) some of them were girls.

It's hard to square these two perspectives, except by noting that nerdy teenage boys are often very bad at noticing nerdy teenage girls.


In my experience as a nerdy girl, it was more that nerdy boys and nerdy girls were bad at recognizing and acting on mutual attraction, which was hard on both the girls and the boys (and that's part of what Penny is getting at I think).
posted by heisenberg at 10:44 AM on December 30, 2014 [10 favorites]


I must've misunderstood his specifically giving advice to autistic men with his identifying as one. Sorry.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:45 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


escabeche: "It's surely relevant to Aaronson's experience that he went to college when he was 15."

My husband went to college at 16 and grad school at 20. I knew him then, and he was not nearly as dense on these sort of things, even at 16. He might not have seen them from his own experience, but if they were pointed out to him, he recognized that other people have other experiences and issues, and that he was definitely playing the game on the easiest setting.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 10:53 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


In my experience as a nerdy girl, it was more that nerdy boys and nerdy girls were bad at recognizing and acting on mutual attraction, which was hard on both the girls and the boys (and that's part of what Penny is getting at I think).

I think more tragic than that. They often picked on each other as much as anyone else did, in a bid to improve their social status by bringing others down.
posted by empath at 10:56 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Seriously, what is it with these guys? I have met so many male intellectuals who - leaving all other aspects of their beliefs aside - really, truly believe that they can lecture you on your own experience and feelings about it plus helpfully correct your intellectual errors.

Because smarts are the Universal Tool and if you have smarts you can unscrew anything, wipe the bits on your T-Shirt of Cleanliness, and put them back together working better and more smoothly. I can't imagine there is a better counterexample than "what Frowner experiences", but it's not very different from a lecture on The Causes of Your Poverty from an information-services professional who has never actually been poor.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:57 AM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


I suspect the number of boys (and girls) with some form of mental health issue or learning disability is greater than 50%.

Really?

At that rate you have to consider it not a disability but just being average.
posted by JackFlash at 10:59 AM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


> Is that your assumption or his?

I'll quote him, again:

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?

To me, this reads very much that he believes his problems, and the ones suffered by fellow nerds, are unique to nerds. They aren't. He doesn't seem to (want to?) understand that.
posted by rtha at 11:00 AM on December 30, 2014 [14 favorites]


The Laurie Penny article is great and I'm glad it was posted.

I do get the feeling we've been here before a few times though.

The initial argument is some variant of "I can't be privileged because I've suffered'.

The correct counter-argument, which Penny makes here, is "You can still be privileged even if you've suffered".

But the tempting counter-argument is "Your suffering is not real or not valid." That's a much more satisfying way to argue. But it's much less useful. Firstly you can't see inside someone's head, you can't really know how much they've suffered. Secondly everyone is different so the next guy who comes along with another slight variant, you have to go through it all again. At least with the Laurie Penny article you can bookmark it for when the next nerd martyr comes along.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:00 AM on December 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


So, ah, apart from being unqualified to lecture on women's issues, I think Aaronson is in a bad position to speak on autism issues as well. We're "rule-bound," sure, but the rules in question don't have to be immutable laws governing human interaction. Protocols of etiquette work just fine. He doesn't seem to get how those differ from "social problems" generally, and that distinction is itself something that he would need to teach to the young men he's trying to reach.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:14 AM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


At that rate you have to consider it not a disability but just being average.

"Having some disability" is indeed the average, and ought to be considered normal. It is not, because we don't tend to think of "disability" as a condition: only ADD, seizure disorders, etc.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:16 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, hey, I just thought of something about Aaronson's apparent inability to move past his "but I have really, really suffered" thing even when plenty of people have written to say that they recognize that he has suffered.

And of course, because it's metafilter, this has to do with therapy.

I too have suffered! And I definitely have been in that same "I need to reiterate over and over again that I have suffered because no matter how many people say they believe me, somehow that still isn't enough". I thought that somehow if I could say it right, I would get recognized in a way that mattered, like someone would say "yes, I recognize your suffering" and it would both make all my problems go away and make my need for recognition go away. But actually, no matter how often people "recognized" this for me, I still had the compulsion to repeat - and not just in a "telling anecdotes on metafilter" way, either.

For some reason, my brain accepted my therapist as a Legitimately Recognizing Person and that quieted some of the need to repeat, as did my ability to repeat to my therapist as often as possible....there was this specific session when I realized that my usual plaint just didn't feel the same any more, it felt emptied out, and that I really had managed to get the recognition and get rid of the need to retell.

There is something in Aaronson's doubling-down that makes me feel like maybe he needs a Recognition-Capable Entity. He's trying to use the feminist internet this way, but it clearly isn't enough (leaving aside whether it's appropriate). I wonder if he could somehow find a way to narrate his adolescence that would allow him to just sort of lay some of those feelings to rest. That might help his ability to talk to feminists.
posted by Frowner at 11:23 AM on December 30, 2014 [29 favorites]


Reskimmed his response before finally closing the tab, saw that he soon intends to post his "advice for shy nerdy females," and, yikes. He should maybe not do that. Dude has more reading and listening than writing and talking to do about gender relations right now.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:26 AM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure we're getting the language here right re: autism spectrum. I thought that the current thinking on it is as a form of thinking that's different from typical and possesses significant disadvantages but less as a disability or mental disorder? I'm not on the spectrum but have friends who are and follow folks who are and that seems to be the preference. I think it's important to try to get the language of that kind of thing right for a lot of reasons, but especially so we treat folks on the spectrum humanely and don't end up causing them more crap to deal with than they already get because people who don't want to behave themselves use them as shields (namely the folks who can navigate most social stuff just fine and only test/push boundaries when they can get away with it).
posted by NoraReed at 11:35 AM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


The linked article is terrific, hands-down the best thing I've read on the subject (and kudos to prize bull octorok for making a nice, clean, straightforward post that encouraged the thoughtful discussion that has developed—only one "play nice" note from a mod!). This quote goes straight into Languagehat's Little Book of Pithy Two-Line Statements that Memorably Condense and Clarify Complex Realities (along with Brother D and the Collective Effort's "America was built, you understand,/ By stolen labor on stolen land"):
Feminism, however, is not to blame for making life hell for "shy, nerdy men". Patriarchy is to blame for that.
I think most of us are capable of at one and the same time 1) feeling sorry for what Aaronson went through as a kid and 2) wanting to give him a swift kick in the pants for his repeated, dogged cluelessness. I clicked on his followup with anticipation, hoping that he would have learned something, and was heartened by his reference to Laurie Penny's "interesting, compassionate" response... but then it turned out he was doubling down on his most stupid, indefensible belief: "if you ranked the social problems of the modern West by the ratio of how many lives they ruin to how many people are willing to discuss them as actual social problems, then 'the problem of the nerdy heterosexual male' would surely be close to the top." He's so invested in that bullshit he can't even conceive of backing away from it, examining it with fresh eyes, and letting go of it.

And while I appreciate the compassionate responses from people trying to find acceptable reasons for his mulishness, I've known enough professors to feel comfortable dismissing him as a thoroughly typical entitled jerk, feeling his own pain so deeply he can't really take on board anybody else's, though I'd be happy to be proved wrong.
posted by languagehat at 11:35 AM on December 30, 2014 [30 favorites]


To me, this reads very much that he believes his problems, and the ones suffered by fellow nerds, are unique to nerds. They aren't. He doesn't seem to (want to?) understand that.

Well, you're inferring a lot. Apparently it's important to multiple people here that SA recognize that his suffering ain't something special, and that he state so clearly.
posted by amorphatist at 11:38 AM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Don't know if anyone's posted this yet - a much less polite response to the blog.
posted by Summer at 11:50 AM on December 30, 2014 [13 favorites]


i'm reading what's there:

whenever these nerdy males pull themselves out of the ditch the world has tossed them into, while still maintaining enlightened liberal beliefs, including in the inviolable rights of every woman and man, they don’t deserve blame for whatever feminist shortcomings they might still have. They deserve medals at the White House.
posted by twist my arm at 11:50 AM on December 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


So, ah, apart from being unqualified to lecture on women's issues, I think Aaronson is in a bad position to speak on autism issues as well.

Oh, yes. This whole discussion is lousy with misunderstandings and misrepresentations.

The autism spectrum is NOT a mental illness, and is only a learning disability in context of neurotypical learning environments. Autism is, simply, a cluster of personality traits that occur along a spectrum of healthy and unhealthy, just like any others.

Further, there is nothing inherently superior about neurotypical behaviors and traits. This is a very common and very damaging perspective.

However, 'refusal to listen to clear guidelines' is not some sort of inherent autistic trait. Depending on an individual manifestation, it may make understanding social cues more difficult, but it doesn't change those requirements and it does not make you incapable of learning. Oh, well. Everyone has to work harder at something.

There are certain minimum requirements for social interactions, just as there would be certain minimum requirements for attending advanced level math classes or lectures or whatever. And if you show up without those prerequisites, it is not the professor/lecturer's job to hold your hand and patiently take you through them. It is unfortunate that either nobody took the time to explain things to you before, or that you didn't pay attention when they did, but it is not every individual lecturer's job to explain basic arithmetic any more than it is a sexual harassment educator's job to explain how to get laid.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:55 AM on December 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


I am at the point with people who claim to be 'on the spectrum', that I am going to demand a doctors note or I'm just going to continue to think they're assholes.

In all seriousness, I think our society more desperately needs some kind of treatment or cure for "just assholes" than for people who are "on the spectrum." If anyone knows of any research documenting best practices for helping people go from "asshole" to "not an asshole," I'd love to see it.
posted by straight at 12:00 PM on December 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


I've found the approach with the most potential success is to tell them what they are doing is wrong and that it hurts people. Even absent being on the spectrum, obliviousness is the biggest issue. People generally don't want to be hurtful.

Now, when I say most potential success I mean like 5-10% chance. Most of the time people will just get defensive under criticism no matter what you do. But if you are going to criticize, directness with empathy has the best chance of success.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:09 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


The answer to 'but how will I ever get laid?!?!' is simple: maybe you won't. It would be far better for many young men who complain so to have explained to them - ideally in the style of the drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket - the following fundamental truths:...

And how did that approach work out for the nerd and the gunny in the movie?
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:11 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well, you're inferring a lot. Apparently it's important to multiple people here that SA recognize that his suffering ain't something special, and that he state so clearly.

Well, yes. Because it's one of those key realizations that helps with understanding. He's so caught up with how he suffered from crippling anxiety that he is unable to realize that a lot of other people - men and women - were in the same boat.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:16 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


How to help all the young male nerds I meet who suffer from this problem, in a way that passes feminist muster, and that triggers the world’s sympathy rather than outrage, is a problem that interests me as much as P vs. NP

I wish this problem were reformulated. Like, that this guy, who says he had hoped that "no one will ever again be able to question the depth of my feminist ideals", planned to solve the problem in a way that contributes to feminist projects.


Yeah, the whole problem here is the focus on getting "feminist approval" rather than actually caring about whether these male nerds are acting ways that hurt women.

Real "feminist ideals" aren't about seeing yourself as a good person. They're about caring about real, individual women, and feminism is just a means to that end. Feminism is a tool for understanding, critiquing, and changing the social forces that prevent us from treating women as human beings deserve to be treated. If that's not your goal, feminism is not going to help you much.
posted by straight at 12:24 PM on December 30, 2014 [13 favorites]


Thanks straight, you've put into words what I wanted to complain about. Feminism to me is about recognizing the way we treat different genders, how that affects individuals, and trying to make our world a more egalitarian place. I don't see him doing that.
posted by Gor-ella at 12:30 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


He's so caught up with how he suffered from crippling anxiety that he is unable to realize that a lot of other people - men and women - were in the same boat.

I don't read that from the comments I've seen quoted here. Again, suffering is not a zero-sum game.

Yeah, the whole problem here is the focus on getting "feminist approval" rather than actually caring about whether these male nerds are acting ways that hurt women.

That feels like semantic gamesmanship... if he cares about the ways that males nerds act to hurt women, then surely that would gain "feminist approval"? One can take most any statement of support and parse it to paint the speaker in a poor, selfish light.
posted by amorphatist at 12:32 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Persistently nitpicking people criticizing a guy who openly waxes nostalgic for the patriarchal domination of the shtetl, and then uses the pain of his adolescence and young adulthood to explain and excuse his nostalgia, all along saying he accepts feminist ideals, is an insanely good look.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:42 PM on December 30, 2014 [17 favorites]


Again, suffering is not a zero-sum game.

I would say Aaronson is the person trying to make it one.
posted by PMdixon at 12:43 PM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


certain SJW types (here and elsewhere) who find it a tad offensive when a (ewww) white male comes along, and tries to use the same tools to understand and analyze their experience and interactions.

let's see him with those tools in action:

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.

and

I might react icily to the claim—for which I’ve seen not a shred of statistical evidence—that women are being kept out of science by the privileged, entitled culture of shy male nerds, which is worse than the culture of male doctors or male filmmakers or the males of any other profession. I believe you guys call this sort of thing “blaming the victim.”

so he denies his male privilege using his lived experience (which he probably thinks is code for "you can't criticize this part!"), and did you catch that last bit? the victim here is the nerdy white males of STEM. presumably women who are kept out of STEM can blame none of the men in the industry. *spirit fingers* magiiiiiiiiiiic!

i might be offended if i weren't already inured to it from seeing this game frequently enough on metafilter.
posted by twist my arm at 12:43 PM on December 30, 2014 [16 favorites]


I don't read that from the comments I've seen quoted here. Again, suffering is not a zero-sum game.

No, it's not a zero-sum game. It's also not a "get out of assholery free" card, either. Yes, it's sad and troubling that he suffered from crippling anxiety. That doesn't mean that it's okay that he characterizes other men as "neanderthals" because they actually have learned to read social context. It doesn't mean that he gets to ignore the privilege that society gives him. And it definitely doesn't make it okay that he expects society to do the heavy social lifting for him, even if that makes things worse for women.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:50 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


It might be worth saying that I too was one of the legions of nerdy, anxious, poorly socialized young men (I was into math and science fiction and chess); I never had an actual date until I was out of high school, and I didn't get laid until I was out of my teens. But I never for one moment blamed girls/women for that—I just felt bad about my own inability to navigate the social waters others seemed to swim freely in and blamed the crucial years I spent in an all-male Catholic school (though I was also deeply grateful for the excellent education I got there). It's not a necessary step from "I can't figure out how to get a date" to "women are evil/incomprehensible"; in fact, it's a giant leap, and the one does not explain or excuse the other. (Not that Aaronson thinks women are evil or incomprehensible, but I often see the conflation of cluelessless/datelessness and misogyny, and I want to make the point that that's mistaken.)
posted by languagehat at 12:59 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


That feels like semantic gamesmanship... if he cares about the ways that males nerds act to hurt women, then surely that would gain "feminist approval"?

For gods sake, he thinks he deserves a fucking medal for not giving up on feminist ideals even when he wanted to die. I mean, what? I guess that is pretty special and unique, because when I was a wanting-to-die baby dyke it never occurred to me that I had to cling to my feminist ideals or....something. His point seems to be that he could have given up and blamed feminism for all his problems, but he didn't, so YAY HIM and doesn't seem to understand why that's such a weird non-sequitur.
posted by rtha at 1:16 PM on December 30, 2014 [26 favorites]


I'm really sorry pace gave up after this thread, but I can certainly understand why.

I feel like what SA is doing on his blog--which is the right place to do it, no?--is equivalent to what many feminists do, namely, sharing his own lived experience and how it played into his formative beliefs.

In this case, when he was a teen, his life was full of negative and traumatizing experiences. Rather than responding with support or empathy, this suffering was repeatedly dismissed, calls to check his privilege were made, and so he became alienated to any discussion about privilege, choosing to shut down rather than engage with others who denied his lived experience.

He argues that his reaction is not uncommon, it is understandable and predictable, and a little bit of empathy and practical help, as opposed to the overwhelming negativity and judgment he received, would have helped teenage SA immeasurably.

Sounds reasonable to me.

Laura Penny does a pretty good job of providing some empathy for that perspective, while still chastising him about privilege, which meh, but fine. Astoundingly, Penny is lauded as brave by some commenters here for doing this.

I say astounding because SA, who shared his very vulnerable personal anecdote on his own blog, is not given the same kudos for being brave, but labelled an asshole, manchild, etc instead. Also because displaying empathy for a man struggling with anything in a feminist thread generally gets you attacked as a misogynist rather than lauded as brave around these parts.

But mostly astounding because, to me, showing compassion for your fellow human beings is, and ought to be, the natural default. So I am glad that some are at least recognizing the value of responding to a human being who has clearly suffered with some empathy.

That would give me cause for optimism, except that, sadly, most of the thread has been bad faith readings of this comment regarding his painful teenage years to justify all kinds of absurd rationalizations about SA [a now adult, married man with a daughter].

Seriously, drawing unfounded parallels between SA and a serial killer? That's a disgusting new low.
posted by misha at 1:18 PM on December 30, 2014 [12 favorites]


I have long had issues with anxiety, and spent much of my adolescence terrified of rejection, to the point that I basically fled interaction.

How much responsibility do the people whose rejection I feared bear for my suffering?

How much responsibility does Aaronson ascribe to the people whose rejection he feared?
posted by PMdixon at 1:29 PM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


You know I wonder if the whole thing is another geek social fallacy - the obsession with fairness. "I see other people hitting on girls and they get to keep doing it, but when I say the exact same things I'm afraid of getting slapped down just because girls find me unattractive! It's not fair!"

Let me say this. Women are not required to be equal-opportunity-opportunities. They are not required to give the same chances to every guy who comes knocking. Some are going to meet with favor and others are not, and that is actually a feature, not a bug.
posted by corb at 1:31 PM on December 30, 2014 [19 favorites]


Also because displaying empathy for a man struggling with anything in a feminist thread generally gets you attacked as a misogynist rather than lauded as brave around these parts.


As you say, Penny's piece didn't attack Aaronson as a misogynist. Rather, it made the case that he's a victim of sexism, and that it's possible -- indeed, for men, it's almost unavoidable! -- to be a victim and a beneficiary of sexism at the same time. The link to Penny's piece got more than 100 favorites. Yes, plenty of people on MetaFilter think Aaronson is a jerk. I don't think so (partly because I know him, to some limited extent.) I'm on board with Penny's piece and my impression is that most people here are, too.
posted by escabeche at 1:41 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Rather than responding with support or empathy, this suffering was repeatedly dismissed

I do not dismiss his suffering in the least; I dismiss his interpretation of it being somehow special or unique because of him being a nerdy guy. A lot of people right here in this thread have expressed our own similarly suffering adolescence (and beyond), but compassion isn't - can't be - just patting someone's hand. He discusses what he went through and it sounds awful: I now expect more of him than I would if he had no insight into this. But instead he's spending a lot of time insisting that people don't understand. We do. That doesn't mean things get easier for him - it means they get harder. There is more work, more thought, more consciousness, more willingness to be wrong, to be silent, to apologize, to take risks, to stick your neck out. You don't get a cookie for hanging on to your principles when shit gets hard.
posted by rtha at 1:43 PM on December 30, 2014 [23 favorites]


so he became alienated to any discussion about privilege, choosing to shut down rather than engage with others who denied his lived experience.

TBH he hasn't progressed much since then.
posted by fleacircus at 1:46 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Some are going to meet with favor and others are not, and that is actually a feature, not a bug.

That men are encouraged to aggressively seek mates in social situations while women are encouraged just to wait for the right guy is definitely a bug in modern human interaction. It makes no sense and doesn't encourage the best pairings as far as I can see. It puts men in awkward situations and women in dangerous, vulnerable situations. Big fucking mess, this species.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:46 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


In this case, when he was a teen, his life was full of negative and traumatizing experiences. Rather than responding with support or empathy, this suffering was repeatedly dismissed, calls to check his privilege were made, and so he became alienated to any discussion about privilege, choosing to shut down rather than engage with others who denied his lived experience.

Nobody is denying his lived experience. We just don't agree with the conclusions he came to, and we find him using that experience as a justification for his poor behavior and lack of socialization to be unacceptable.

A lot of us have had the same sort of experience that he did as well. I've discussed before how I got myself to a point where I could not genuinely believe that a woman would show interest in me, so I was looking for ulterior motives if any interest was shown. I also used to make "merits of eunuchhood" jokes as well, which doesn't say much for my mindset at the time. But I managed to get my head straightened out, by realizing that these were my own hangups, and that I needed to get to a healthier place. And so I did, by realizing and working on my own flaws, which is still a work in progress.

And that's why my sympathy (and yes, it's sympathy, since I have been in the same place as well) for him is limited. Yes, his experience is pretty crappy, as I know from first hand experience. But instead of looking at why he felt so scared of talking to girls, he instead created a toxic narrative of how it was society that burdened him with doubt and anxiety. And when he gets called out on that narrative, he then uses his experience and suffering as a shield. So yeah I have to deny him his pain - as a shield for his conduct.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:53 PM on December 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


He discusses what he went through and it sounds awful: I now expect more of him than I would if he had no insight into this.

What exactly do you expect of him?

There is more work, more thought, more consciousness, more willingness to be wrong, to be silent, to apologize, to take risks, to stick your neck out.

Come on. If you're the one with the expectations, why don't you spell them out so the rest of us have some idea what exactly SA is supposed to do to satisfy you? Or is general pablum all we're getting today?
posted by amorphatist at 1:56 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am pretty sure corb was talking about how women aren't "supposed" to have sex drives and preferences of their own, not endorsing the system where women are only "gatekeepers" instead of having as much agency as men.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:57 PM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


misha: I'm really sorry pace gave up after this thread, but I can certainly understand why.

I feel like what SA is doing on his blog--which is the right place to do it, no?--is equivalent to what many feminists do, namely, sharing his own lived experience and how it played into his formative beliefs.


Three thoughts:

1. Aaronson did much, much more than simply give his own experience and say "that's why I have some trouble with emotionally supporting the feminist movement", which probably wouldn't have gotten so much attention. Instead, he explicitly says that he considers calling out male scientists for sexism to be "victim-blaming", which is, at least least, fundamentally misunderstanding what that term means, and, I would guess having very little sense of how privilege or intersectionality work. So a really-quite-respectful piece such as Penny's is completely reasonably, as far as I can see.

2. As with many social justice issues, I think some people here on the blue are taking the opportunity to publicly roll their eyes at yet another person saying something stupid on the Internet. There's not really anything wrong with that, but it sometimes does just feel like noise compared to some of the deeper, more analytic comments here, or certainly next to Penny's response piece. Still, I have a hard time blaming people who encounter sexism and worse their entire lives for wanting to call out someone prominent who's said something fairly awful in places.

3. As for whether the comment was the right place to vent this, I have to say that my opinion is a very strong no. If he'd written a bit more carefully on a separate blog post, maybe. If his motivation was clearly just to tell his own story, sure. But as it stands, he's commented here while talking about a faculty member accused of sexual harassment of students. And his main complaint is that the videos recorded by that professor have been taken down. This is already a pretty shaky way to begin a blog post, when you bear in mind that a substantial proportion of your audience may have experienced sexual harassment. And then to shoehorn in an argument that male scientists are "some of society's least privileged males" is not at all the same thing as just telling your own experience.
posted by thegears at 1:59 PM on December 30, 2014 [24 favorites]


But instead of looking at why he felt so scared of talking to girls, he instead created a toxic narrative of how it was society that burdened him with doubt and anxiety.

The burdens society places on individuals, are frequently considered to be a (toxic) effect of "The Patriarchy". You might have heard of it.
posted by amorphatist at 2:01 PM on December 30, 2014


I really don't understand what that little tu quoque means.
posted by PMdixon at 2:03 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Come on. If you're the one with the expectations, why don't you spell them out so the rest of us have some idea what exactly SA is supposed to do to satisfy you? Or is general pablum all we're getting today?

Take some actual responsibility for social interaction, instead of demanding that everyone else do the heavy lifting. Instead of looking to please some external authority, develop his own code of ethics, then live by it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:22 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think empathy should be a two-way street: it's not something that women owe men while we wait for them to decide we're worthy of it. And I don't see any evidence at all that SA is empathetic to anyone but nerdy, middle-class white men. He's an extremely powerful person, and you could argue that it's important to stroke and sooth him so that he doesn't use his tremendous power to hurt women, people of color, members of the LGBT community, and other genuinely marginalized groups. But I don't think I owe him any more empathy than he owes the rest of us, and I don't think his follow-up post or his comments suggest a ton of empathy or willingness to listen to anyone else's experiences. I eagerly await that upcoming post on shy, nerdy girls, though. I can't wait to hear him dismiss my actual life experience and explain how I could have done it better.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:30 PM on December 30, 2014 [30 favorites]


Pretty sure that amorphatist is trying to say that if it's okay to blame the patriarchy for the problems of individuals, then it must be equally appropriate to blame feminists. Of course, drawing this kind of equivalence ignores whether or not the people/groups/ideas SA is blaming actually created the environment in which he suffered, which is the actual point of the majority of these responses.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:33 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think empathy should be a two-way street: it's not something that women owe men while we wait for them to decide we're worthy of it. And I don't see any evidence at all that SA is empathetic to anyone but nerdy, middle-class white men.

And this is why all the paeans to comity yesterday really irked me. It's funny how the people on the side of women, persons of color, and other minorities are expected to show empathy and understanding, but you never see the same demand made of those on the top of the power structure in society. And when that first group points our that they're tired from fighting the same battle over and over, they're accused of venting, and told how anger isn't productive - but any anger and disdain illustrated by the other side gets glossed over.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:44 PM on December 30, 2014 [18 favorites]


also why can't you be more like Laurie Penny?
posted by twist my arm at 2:47 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have been reading all of this instead of working for the last day or so...

This is not the place for a treatise, probably, and its pretty late in the discussion. So let me just add one thought - I don't understand why Aaronson is mixing his own beliefs and experiences with declarative pronouncements. That's just . . . bad science. I mean, his own field still calls gravity a theory, but he's comfortable stating "the way it is" for male nerds? He now wants to give advice to female nerds? And he hasn't read the lit? If you're speaking as a scientist, and you're going to declare something true, or (dear god) make prescriptive statements to more junior people for how to solve problems it's pretty dangerous to base all that on introspection from an n of 1.
posted by synapse at 2:50 PM on December 30, 2014 [9 favorites]


I think empathy should be a two-way street: it's not something that women owe men while we wait for them to decide we're worthy of it.

Having empathy should be something you do because good people do it. If it's conditional on the person in question jumping through hoops to be worthy of it, you aren't doing it right.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:51 PM on December 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


Are you going to address that to SA, too, Drinky Die, or is that one of those things that officially applies to everyone but that only gets said to angry women?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:54 PM on December 30, 2014 [21 favorites]


Hm... I've been bouncing around an idea for a while, trying to turn it into a statement or two:

“I recognize that we use concepts to support our preconceived, often unexamined biases, even within the bounds of logic; to communicate with others, I should instead examine how my biases affect my understanding of concepts.”

Um, it's still a bit more wordy than "I think, therefore I am." But anyways, humanity is more important than being human.
posted by halifix at 2:58 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


And you know, my adolescence sucked in a fairly dramatic and spectacular way, so it took me a long time to realize that being a teenager kind of sucks for most people. My adolescent misery puts me on a spectrum of adolescent misery. It doesn't separate me from the beautiful people whose teenage years were unmitigated bliss.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:58 PM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


Are you going to address that to SA, too, Drinky Die, or is that one of those things that officially applies to everyone but that only gets said to angry women?

I think the comment stands no matter who it is addressed to, and I would address it to everyone as one of the most important points in all of human relations. I apologize for saying it in such a way as it could be read as an attack against angry women.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:59 PM on December 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


Having empathy should be something you do because good people do it. If it's conditional on the person in question jumping through hoops to be worthy of it, you aren't doing it right.

I'm perfectly sympathetic to his pain, because I've been there. But my sympathy ends when he starts using his pain as a shield from criticism, again because I've been there. And that's the part that keeps getting missed - he didn't bring up his experience for illumination, but for justification.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:09 PM on December 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


But instead of looking at why he felt so scared of talking to girls, he instead created a toxic narrative of how it was society that burdened him with doubt and anxiety.

> The burdens society places on individuals, are frequently considered to be a (toxic) effect of "The Patriarchy". You might have heard of it.

>> Pretty sure that amorphatist is trying to say that if it's okay to blame the patriarchy for the problems of individuals, then it must be equally appropriate to blame feminists.


Not at all what I intended. In my comments I have assigned no blame to feminists for what happened to him in his teenage years, that's a really weird reading. What I meant was that it's BS to say that "he instead created a toxic narrative [...]". We would usually say at this point that the patriarchy hurts men as well as women. And clearly his teenage years were a misery due his inability to navigate social interactions, and from what he tells us it seems fair to blame patriarchal norms/structures/expectations for some of his misery. SA didn't summon The Patriarchy into being in his teenage years. The Patriarchy is real, even when "privileged" men such as SA fall victim to it.
posted by amorphatist at 3:12 PM on December 30, 2014


We would usually say at this point that the patriarchy hurts men as well as women.

Crazy how NoxAeternum, the guy you're playing a game of Gotcha at, has said exactly that upthread.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:15 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


What I meant was that it's BS to say that "he instead created a toxic narrative [...]". We would usually say at this point that the patriarchy hurts men as well as women. And clearly his teenage years were a misery due his inability to navigate social interactions, and from what he tells us it seems fair to blame patriarchal norms/structures/expectations for some of his misery. SA didn't summon The Patriarchy into being in his teenage years. The Patriarchy is real, even when "privileged" men such as SA fall victim to it.

This is sorta true and sorta not and sorta beside the point.

Yes, he internalized a lot of toxic self hating shit, and that is generally considered one of the harms of a semester society.

But he also seems to have self generated a bunch of toxic shit. The bit about the sexual harassment seminar and his reaction does not seem like any of the typical narratives floating about, that sounds like idiosyncratic anxiety.

But it's missing the point, which is that SA, by my reading, blames feminists for this. Which is kinda factually wrong.
posted by PMdixon at 3:19 PM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Men sharing their experiences with stuff like this don't get lauded as being brave because they experience no negative consequences from doing so (or, if they do experience negative consequences, they are far less than women or nonbinary folks would have); they also aren't going against the grain of socialization that constantly tells them to deprioritize themselves in favor of others (as women are). Men are constantly told that their views are both valid and valuable, even when they have absolutely nothing of substance to say; they aren't challenging anything by talking about their own lived experience because their lived experience is the default. Women and nonbinary folks get lauded for bravery when they do that because they are challenging the status quo, standing up for themselves and creating more narratives that other non-men can look toward and find that they aren't alone, men already have those.

It is, of course, possible for men sharing their stories to have to exercise bravery in doing so, because putting yourself out there can be really difficult, and depending on what the story is there might be blowback, but women and nonbinary folks sharing their stuff on the internet have societal conditioning telling them that they're a) doing something they aren't supposed to and b) failing to support them in general for their attempts; aside from this they also have to deal with the likelihood that if anyone pays attention to what they're writing they will face harassment, threats, men demanding their time and claiming entitlement to it, JAQing off, etc.

These same principals generally apply when you substitute other marginalized groups for "women and nonbinary folks", though sometimes you have to do some adjustments, and that's also why people often look towards the narrative of fictional people with fictional types of marginalization in order to find themselves, because whether or not those are intended as allegories, they often reflect things you just don't see often in other stories because there frequently are more writings about (mutants/vampires/elves/belters/unmodified humans in a genetically altered future/etc) available than actual people who share elements of their actual stories.

Also, I'm not sure how Aaronson identifies ethnically and/or racially, but how Jewish people are viewed and whether they "count" as white ends up varying a lot in different places, and I have no idea which set of rules for that apply to him. Maybe someone Jewish and in his general community/area might be able to weigh in on that, if you feel like it, though obviously it is not your job to educate, etc.
posted by NoraReed at 3:23 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I am pretty sure corb was talking about how women aren't "supposed" to have sex drives and preferences of their own, not endorsing the system where women are only "gatekeepers" instead of having as much agency as men.

Yeah. Because if you listen to them, heterosexual men talk all day about their preferences in women. Height, weight, hair color, assertiveness, employment, sexual activity status - really just about anything you can think of. And that's considered normal and fine. No one expects men to date women that don't meet those preferences, regardless of how clever their conversation is or whether they've said the same thing as the preferred girl said. But on the other hand, there is this expectation that women don't get to refuse men - that for women, especially women who don't meet an idealized sociological version of beauty - to have their own preferences in men that exclude some heterosexual men is just wrong and unfair. It's part of all that Nice Guy bitching, of which I see Aaronson's rant as an extension.
posted by corb at 3:52 PM on December 30, 2014 [35 favorites]


Because if you listen to them, heterosexual men talk all day about their preferences in women. Height, weight, hair color, assertiveness, employment, sexual activity status - really just about anything you can think of. [...] But on the other hand, there is this expectation that women don't get to refuse men

The thing that is hilarious is when women do express the same kind of preferences that men routinely do men behave like the whole world is falling apart. It's highly diverting!
posted by winna at 3:55 PM on December 30, 2014 [12 favorites]


Laurie Penny is a genius. Her essay should be required reading for everyone.

She does not attack or insult Aaronson, instead she provides sensible perspectives on the issues that he raises. She presents concepts in a manner which is passionate and deeply personal, but not disrespectful to him on a personal level. Perhaps we can learn something from her writing style, even though we all have our own style, of course.
posted by ovvl at 4:04 PM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also, I'm not sure how Aaronson identifies ethnically and/or racially, but how Jewish people are viewed and whether they "count" as white ends up varying a lot in different places, and I have no idea which set of rules for that apply to him. Maybe someone Jewish and in his general community/area might be able to weigh in on that, if you feel like it, though obviously it is not your job to educate, etc.

WTF? Presumably you need this data to complete his scorecard. I figured this was just a nasty stereotype of intersectionality feminism, but apparently people actually do this.
posted by amorphatist at 4:05 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


The thing that is hilarious is when women do express the same kind of preferences that men routinely do men behave like the whole world is falling apart. It's highly diverting!

Cue the "shallow," "bitchy," "too picky," "gold-digging," "who does she think she is, that ugly bitch?" "haha like anyone's going to want HER" etc. etc. ad nauseam. It's sadly predictable. How dare those walking sex toys (aka women) express their own preferences!

And good old evolutionary psychology is always ready to chime in with "but...men are visual creatures! You can't expect a man to fall in love with anyone other than a Victoria's Secret model - it's against nature! Evolution says so!" and its evil sibling "Women only care about money and baybeez! They only use sex to capture a man's wallet and sperm!"
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:06 PM on December 30, 2014 [14 favorites]


WTF? Presumably you need this data to complete his scorecard. I figured this was just a nasty stereotype of intersectionality feminism, but apparently people actually do this.

Uh, people have been calling him white in the thread, and I wanted to warn people against doing that (or ask them to at least have nuance and care in doing it) because I don't think it's okay to erase someone's ethnic or racial identity. I don't have the kind of background where I feel comfortable straight up telling people how to refer to Jewish folks racially, though, so I thought I'd leave a spot for folks who have the background experience necessary to chime in if they want to.
posted by NoraReed at 4:17 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm Jewish, and I think he's white, as am I. Masculinity may be fraught in particular ways for Jewish men, but that doesn't erase their whiteness.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:20 PM on December 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think it's worth noting that at least IMO, having talked to a lot of these kinds of guys over the years(and been friends with, or lived with them) that i think this guy is sort of the magneto to the young xmen of terrible nerdy dudes.

What i'm saying, is i think it's a lot more likely that he isn't feeling the fringes of trans-dom, but when he talks about how he wishes he was a woman or gay that he thinks, like a lot of nerdy guys do, that life for them is easier because their allowed to talk about and say things he isn't, have equality movements supporting them and backing them up(which a lot of nerdy dudes see as like, over adjusting and giving them an unfair amount of additional power/attention) and bla blabla affirmative action is terrible and female privilege is a thing because a woman can falsely accuse you of rape and your life is over forever.

i really can't read a nerdy guy saying he wishes he was a woman, without more context than was given here, and not think it's the tip of that iceberg. Because every. Single. Time. I've challenged a nerdy dude on saying something like that, that's exactly where it led. And this is a sample size of more than like 3, ok?

This isn't specifically directed at thug unicorn or anyone else, but since it came up in the thread it made the gears turn in my mind. I have yet to see a nerdy dude bring up that kind of thing and have it go anywhere good. It's always, always about how insert-minority-group they're discussing has it easier. And leads to nerdy-white-dudes-are-the-most-opressed-ever and like, female privilege places consistently.

Pretty much, when a nerdy guy says that nod and listen then ask why. Listen to the response carefully. It's either going to be blatantly shitty, or shitty in a coded way. If it's not, it's rare enough to be shocked. I mean, have compassion and don't attack someone who says it, but it's absolutely a sign of "nothing good is down this dead end road".
posted by emptythought at 4:45 PM on December 30, 2014 [17 favorites]


I am at the point with people who claim to be 'on the spectrum', that I am going to demand a doctors note or I'm just going to continue to think they're assholes.
posted by empath at 11:16 AM on December 30 [+] [!]


The two are not mutually exclusive.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:19 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have reread Laurie Penny's post many times now. This is what I wish I could have said to those boys in high school who were my friends (except when they weren't because a "hot girl" was around), who constantly lamented their bad luck with "the ladies" (but never looked at me as a lady), who complained that women weren't interested in the things they were interested in (but wouldn't let me play D&D with them). I was a sad, angry girl who didn't think it was possible for people to genuinely like me--I believed myself to be innately untouchable and unloveable because that was the only message I had ever received.

I had a very rough time when I got to college and I was no longer an untouchable woman, when indeed it seemed like every man around me suddenly wanted to touch me. I didn't have the slightest idea how to handle suddenly getting what I thought I wanted and having it not be like I thought it would be. I did stupid shit with people I should not have done it with. And I kept falling into the trap of going after the same kind of guy, like those guys from high school, who even when they were with me seemed to be looking for the "hot girl" who could replace me. Until I lucked out and met my geeky guy who somehow had escaped that nonsense (he says he was way too oblivious in his youth for any of that).

I know the conversation has wandered all over the place, but as a hopelessly nerdy girl, I am so very thankful for Laurie Penny.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:32 PM on December 30, 2014 [26 favorites]


I will be extremely interested to read SA's advice to lonely nerd girls, because I seriously don't think he will have any other than "wear shorter skirts and get contacts."
posted by jfwlucy at 5:52 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


because I seriously don't think he will have any other than "wear shorter skirts and get contacts."

Well, at least we know where you stand on good-faith interpretations of his posts.
posted by amorphatist at 5:56 PM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


I haven't read all the way down, so I apologize in advance if someone has already addressed this. But someone else way up above asked where Scott seems more concerned with the feelings of shy male nerds than anyone else, and I found this comment of his particularly telling. For those who don't want to click, it says:

"Incidentally, now that the floodgates are open, I think I can put my finger precisely on what it is that makes me uncomfortable about shaming Lewin without giving a more detailed accounting of what he did.

Namely, I know that such a move will pour gasoline onto the paranoid fantasies of shy, nerdy males all over the world. They’ll imagine that Lewin was disgraced, his life’s work ruined, because of the tamest, gentlest unreciprocated expression of romantic interest, and they’ll imagine that the same thing could happen to them. From what little I know about the case, it seems clear that that’s not at all what happened here, but MIT’s statement says nothing to rule it out, and the shy nerds will easily fill in the blanks with their imaginations.

Of course, I doubt this concern ever once crossed any of the administrators’ minds as they weighed what to do. As I said, this kind of problem simply isn’t on the academic world’s radar, even though it probably disfigures millions of lives."


Nowhere have I seen him express any sympathy for the victims of said harassment (and if he has, I will be glad to be wrong and someone should please point me to it). But yeah, let's release all the sordid details of what Walter Lewin said and did because those shy male nerds are so delicate that they'll assume a wayward glance at a woman is enough to scuttle their own careers before they even start.

My guess is, MIT did not weigh that possibility, because they were far more concerned with preventing any further trauma to the victims. Has Aaronson thought about how the women on the receiving end might feel if the press were allowed to air and analyze every bit of what went down? Has Aaronson considered what usually happens to public victims of sexual harassment, which can include denial of their experiences, character assassination, doxxing, and rape and death threats? Not to mention the scorn these victims would get heaped upon them for being seen as the cause of MIT taking down some beloved videos of a beloved professor, who probably didn't mean any harm and he's just an old man anyway, why can't you just keep quiet and not ruin things for everyone by getting harassed and then complaining about it.

But no, let's make sure we think about how the men might feel here.
posted by j.r at 6:00 PM on December 30, 2014 [39 favorites]


Amorphatist, I would be delighted to be proven wrong.
posted by jfwlucy at 6:15 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


Laurie was a lot more patient than I would have been.

I can't understand how a grown up can state that their greatest struggle in life was not getting laid, and not realise that this was, in fact, a pretty good indication of privilege (or some seriously skewed priorities).

I think he's also kidding himself about the reason he's freaking out about the lectures being taken down. It sounds exactly like his other over reactions to the potential of being labelled a creep for approaching a woman - 'I might get this girl/boy thing wrong, and then my entire world will be stripped away from me!!'.
posted by kjs4 at 6:28 PM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


Laurie was a lot more patient than I would have been.

Totally understandable, and same here.

But that's part of why her response is so remarkable--she raises the level of discourse, so that even if AS is too much of an asshole to ever "get it," she at least increases the chances that someone reading her piece will do so (and I suspect that even as he keeps writing lame things, he's probably at least been given some different ways to think because he read her piece thoroughly, something he'd be less likely to do with a more passionate, vitriolic "takedown" piece).

I really can't applaud her enough for this. It's extremely hard to know what she knows and still do what she's done the way she's done it.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:36 PM on December 30, 2014 [13 favorites]


I'm not trying to pick on you, emjaybee, but I've seen this sentiment expressed a couple times in this thread, and I don't think it's actually true, at least in terms of "getting a pass." It's going to depend on when someone's diagnosed of course, but there are a great many programs designed to help kids with autism learn social skills. They're not all good, and I assume there are issues with accessibility, but it's not like everyone just throws up their hands and says, "Oh, well, autism" and completely ignores a kid's social development.

Oh, I was not saying they always *did* get a pass, just that someone with an actual disability that makes normal social interaction really difficult should get treated with compassion as much as possible. And certainly should not be given up on, I think those programs are great when they work. Sorry if I was unclear.
posted by emjaybee at 7:14 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


From Scott's comment: the curse of having been born a heterosexual male, which for me, meant being consumed by desires that one couldn’t act on or even admit without running the risk of becoming an objectifier or a stalker or a harasser or some other creature of the darkness.

You know, I was pretty much a full-on nerd all during middle school and high school, and something like a nerd during college and I still managed to get some action during college. I think the problem is this bizarre mindset that you are either some man-ape who is able to magically experience your libido with women who purposefully subject themselves to objectification, or you're a sensitive thinker and thus have to sit around and wait for sex to magically happen to you because heavens forbid you let a women know you find them attractive.

A big chunk of sexist thought and MRA crap is that men are hunters (or consumers) of sex and women are purveyors of sex when, in fact, sex is this other thing that both men and women can want and share with each other. There are definitely moments when I have felt that frustration — where it felt like sex was this thing I had to almost fool my partner into giving to me — so I can identify with the pain of that circumstance. But it really is a fallacy. It's when you let go of getting it from and aim for sharing it with that it happens.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:02 PM on December 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


You know, I was not-really-nerdy in high school, but I was a good student in AP classes, as were most of my female friends, and none of us got laid in high school. Some of those friends were more math-science nerdy-ish, some more humanities nerdy-ish, but all of us would count as reasonably attractive, and some of them (not me) dated in high school, but we were seriously wide-eyed when one of our not-in-the-inner-circle friends told us she was sleeping with her boyfriend.

I went to a really good college, and all of my five roommates were humanities types and only one of us had dated in high school.

A lot of kids don't date in high school. A lot of kids don't lose their virginity until after high school. The idea that boys who like D&D are somehow exclusively excluded from high-school romance is stupid.
posted by jaguar at 8:42 PM on December 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


Excellent piece. Thanks, prize bull octorok.
posted by homunculus at 8:49 PM on December 30, 2014


The part where Scott Aaronson claims that being a white male nerd is more difficult and painful than growing up black in America, or growing up gay in America, or poor, or severely disabled, or homeless with a communicable disease, apparently:

"I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten to a place in life where I’m happy to be who I am, with a wonderful wife and daughter and a job doing what I love. But with a slightly-different roll of the dice? I would absolutely have traded places with any of the people you mentioned—the poor black kid, the gay kid, any of them. I wouldn’t even have to think about it. Are you kidding me?

I wouldn’t have written what I did, if that wasn’t honestly how I felt. And I wonder if this isn’t the crux of so many people’s failure to understand me: the only possibility they can contemplate, is that I can’t grasp how badly other people have it. That I would’ve gladly traded places with them, despite knowing how badly they have it, is a fact they won’t assimilate no matter how often I say it."
(x)

*picks up jaw from the floor * I'm genuinely stunned any white dude in America at this particular point in time has the unmitigated gall to say something like this.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:17 PM on December 30, 2014 [35 favorites]


I'm perfectly sympathetic to his pain, because I've been there. But my sympathy ends when he starts using his pain as a shield from criticism, again because I've been there. And that's the part that keeps getting missed - he didn't bring up his experience for illumination, but for justification.

This would make sense only if you didn't bother to actually read all his comments. He specifically makes the point, more than once, that he is NOT trying to avoid criticism or provide justification for anything, he's just explaining his own struggles growing up as a nerdy Jewish guy.

What exactly do you think he needs to "justify", anyway?
posted by misha at 9:32 PM on December 30, 2014


Considering this, I think in part I'm so baffled by Scott Aaronson's contention that literally no one on the planet had it as bad as he did is the fact that I have never heard anyone say this before.

I've been struck consistently, that in conversations with women who have been molested by family or raped by supposed friends, physically and emotionally abused by the people they relied upon the most, they always talk about how it could have been worse. "At least it wasn't X!" where X is some form of trauma they rate as more difficult than what they've just related. I've certainly done it myself when talking about my own worst struggles. (I mean, yes, I had cancer: but come on, it was one of the easy ones!) In my experience, people can always imagine something they think is worse.

I think this might be what baffles me so much about Scott Aaronson's contention that no one else could possibly have suffered as much as him and he would happily trade places with anyone. I've never met anyone who couldn't imagine something worse. Perhaps this is merely an imaginative failure on his part.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:55 PM on December 30, 2014 [29 favorites]


*picks up jaw from the floor * I'm genuinely stunned any white dude in America at this particular point in time has the unmitigated gall to say something like this.

Me too. There's a failure of logic there I can't quite put a name to. Or maybe just a simple failure of empathy that is so common amongst adults who have not grown out of their teenage self-centredness.
posted by Kerasia at 9:56 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think this might be what baffles me so much about Scott Aaronson's contention that no one else could possibly have suffered as much as him and he would happily trade places with anyone. I've never met anyone who couldn't imagine something worse. Perhaps this is merely an imaginative failure on his part.

Thank you Hildegarde. I think this is my bafflement too. His perspective is so limited by his narrow thinking that I suggest he suffers from the Dunning–Kruger effect in relation to empathy.
posted by Kerasia at 10:00 PM on December 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think the ultimate lesson here is that all of these nuances of social interaction need to be taught to people while they are kids.

divined by radio: Can you point me to even one person who insists that "asking girls out" is disallowed?

It's not about there actually being people saying that asking girls out is disallowed. It's about kids mistakenly inferring that, because they are kids (hence: inexperienced with the world), and specifically nerdy shy kids (hence: they are denser than most when it comes to social interaction).

So yes, they need reassurance that it's okay, even though that seems like a ridiculously irrational concern to you. Kids frequently need to be reassured about things that seem silly to adults.

---------------
Let me preface this next part by saying that I am a guy who agrees with feminists about 95% of the time. I believe it absolutely is harder to be a woman (that should be obvious to anyone with a brain), and the best source of knowledge on the topic is women and their personal experiences.

But what amazes me about this dynamic is that it takes boy children who already want to treat girls well and misunderstands them to the point that they somehow become the enemy for failing to figure out something that nobody bothered to tell them. (And I'm talking about children, that's why I'm using the words 'girls' and 'boys'.)

Seriously, that's their problem: they are so scared that they might not treat girls well enough that they can't bring themselves to interact with girls at all. They already take for granted that girls should be treated well, they just don't know how. These are boys that already, correctly, believe that women are people too. And a lot of feminists don't even believe they exist! They believe that shyness and awkwardness is always just an act. Maybe it's an act for some other guys, but it's very real for these guys.

These should be the easiest boys in the world to make into feminist allies.

---------------
PMdixon: Most people are not autistic, in the same way that most people are not clinically anxious or depressed. Explaining systemic problems as a result of these mental health issues comes across as excuse making, scapegoating, and deflection, at least to me.

Who do you think we're talking about here? We're talking about people who were exceptionally bad at socializing as kids. A very common reason for poor socializing skills is being on the autism spectrum. People who have been consistently bad at socializing throughout their lives often experience anxiety and depression.

Your dismissal of other people's lived personal experiences strikes me as being blind to your own mental health privilege. Just as I am privileged in some ways and unprivileged in others, so are you.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population). Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.

About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder. (CDC, 2014)
posted by the big lizard at 10:14 PM on December 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


If Scott Aaronson has/had an anxiety disorder, why isn't he ranting about the poor treatment for anxiety disorders in teen boys? Why is it about Andrea Dworkin and how he wanted girls to touch his penis but they touched the penises of boys who he considers beneath him instead and that was frustrating to the point that he wanted to kill himself? Why the weird non sequitur about how he should get a medal for still being a feminist in spite of his struggle if his struggle is against an anxiety disorder?

It's not us disregarding mental health issues. It's Scott Aaronson.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:22 PM on December 30, 2014 [26 favorites]


Thanks to the "less polite" (but funnier) rebuttal that Summer linked to, I now know what a Gish Gallop is.


Cut and paste from that 2nd link, in case anyone else is as behind the times as I am:
The Gish Gallop is the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of small arguments that their opponent cannot possibly answer or address each one in real time. More often than not, these myriad arguments are full of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments — the only condition is that there be many of them, not that they be particularly compelling on their own.
...
The term was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, named after creationist Duane Gish.[1] Creationists are fond of it; see "101 evidences for a young age of the Earth and the universe" for example, which is perhaps the most stunning case. Sam Harris describes the technique as "starting 10 fires in 10 minutes."

posted by small_ruminant at 11:07 PM on December 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


Seriously, that's their problem: they are so scared that they might not treat girls well enough that they can't bring themselves to interact with girls at all. They already take for granted that girls should be treated well, they just don't know how. These are boys that already, correctly, believe that women are people too.

See, this is where my brain kind of breaks.

Refusing to interact with girls out of fear is not treating girls as people, it's treating girls as members of a group that inspire fear. It is similar to treating black men as a class to be afraid of due to racism; in both cases the individuality of the person is subsumed into the stereotypes about the group which make them fear-inducing (in the case of women, fear of rejection; in the case of black men, fear of violence).

If they believe girls are people too, then if they want to treat girls well they would treat them the way they treat other people and make friends the way you make friends with other people. You pay attention to their signals, believe what they say, and if they prove to be untrustworthy you move on. And sometimes a relationship, even a friendship, never forms anyway, but that's ok because they're people and people are allowed to decide who they spend time with. If girls are people, being rejected by a girl should hurt no more than being rejected by a boy; not all boys want to be your friend, either.

But honestly, in my experience, even with men and boys who "saw me as a person" some of the time would have weird personality shifts when they "saw me as a girl" and they would suddenly begin doing weird things like touching me without asking first and being offended when I moved away from them or reacted with anything other than receptiveness, and staring at me in a way which was really disconcerting, and making up stories that they claimed absolutely weren't about me but used all kinds of things which were important to me to describe the main character with whom their author insert quickly had sex (and they make sure I know it!), and who talk about how they'd kill themselves by crashing their car if I wasn't sitting next to them because I was the light which was going to save them, and none of that is treating me like a person - particularly the last, which was really terrifying. All of it was treating me like an object they could lay claim to or put on a pedestal to serve their own purposes (and in once case, actually fictionalize me so I become their literal dream girl).

But I doubt they saw it that way. I think they saw it as them setting me apart from others and making me more important, without realizing that in doing so they were ignoring who I was and disregarding what I wanted - not even asking what I wanted!

I think a lot of men don't actually notice when they objectify women, even the women they are closest too.

There's a moment at the end of the movie Don Juan De Marco, where the psychologist secondary character looks at his wife and asks, "What are your dreams?" And she blinks at him startled, and tears gleam into her eyes, and she says in a voice thickened by emotion, "I thought you'd never ask." That was the moment when she stopped being the object of support and pleasure who would follow unquestioningly and desireless along in his considerable wake, and became a person he was interested in.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:59 AM on December 31, 2014 [33 favorites]


Who do you think we're talking about here? We're talking about people who were exceptionally bad at socializing as kids. A very common reason for poor socializing skills is being on the autism spectrum. People who have been consistently bad at socializing throughout their lives often experience anxiety and depression.

Your dismissal of other people's lived personal experiences strikes me as being blind to your own mental health privilege. Just as I am privileged in some ways and unprivileged in others, so are you.


First of all, I didn't read the comment you were responding to here as specifically about SA, but rather about the general phenomenon of nerdy men explaining away inappropriate behavior by appealing to a lack of social skills. (Also, it was written by someone who literally talked about his own struggles with anxiety in this very thread, so I wouldn't be too quick on the draw to talk about his mental health privilege.)

Second, I have no doubt that people who are bad at socializing may suffer from anxiety, and it is definitely true that anxiety disorders impose a significant personal cost. Anxiety disorders, however, are also hardly unique to young nerdy straight males, or even young men on the autism spectrum. For example, it turns out that rates of anxiety and depression (as well as substance abuse, eating disorders, etc.) are also significantly higher in LGBT people than they are in their heterosexual counterparts. (There's a model in the literature called "minority stress" -- in this case, the pressure of things like homophobia, including internalized homophobia, discrimination, and the threat of violence -- that has been used to explain this increased risk.) So appealing to anxiety disorders as an explanatory factor actually completely fails to support SA's assertion that nerdy straight males suffer more than their queer counterparts.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:54 AM on December 31, 2014 [12 favorites]


I've been trying to articulate for a while now why Aaronson's writings on this topic bother me so much. I guess it's:

1) He is jaw-droppingly unaware of the social benefits of being part of his class

> "... 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. But I suspect the thought that being a nerdy male might not make me 'privileged'—that it might even have put me into one of society’s least privileged classes—is completely alien to your way of seeing things."

He is a professor at MIT. HE IS A PROFESSOR AT MIT. In a department with about two-and-a-half times as many male professors as female professors. And not because he is some rare member of his class who broke free of the restrictions placed upon him. Nerdy male is pretty much the default stereotype of that profession. And while there are certainly professions more privileged than "MIT Professor", compared with the bulk of the world population, it's pretty high up there.

Now, a job is not the only indicator of privilege or the lack thereof. But remember, he's arguing that he is among society's LEAST privileged classes. And I'm willing to bet that he also lives somewhere nice, married the person he wanted to without anyone objecting or trying to make it illegal, etc.

However, as has been pointed out many times now, that doesn't mean he never had any problems in his life. He clearly did:

> "My recurring fantasy, through this period, was to have been born a woman, or a gay man, or best of all, completely asexual ... 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."

I understand this was an emotional reaction to his situation. But. For just one example:

It's estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of LGBT youth have attempted suicide. LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than other young people.

This doesn't mean that he didn't have a terrible time of it as an individual. But I don't see how it's possible to look at the statistics and decide that, as a class, his had it worse. And he has said nothing to indicate that he now believes otherwise. In fact, he doubles down:

> "I would absolutely have traded places with any of the people you mentioned—the poor black kid, the gay kid, any of them."

2) He is blind to the prejudices of his own class

> "I hope you understand why ... I might react icily to the claim ... that women are being kept out of science by the privileged, entitled culture of shy male nerds ..."

To be clear, he's not claiming that such a prejudice doesn't exist among shy male nerds, but rather that it's no worse than it is in any other profession. But unfortunately, women ARE being turned away from or pushed out of STEM by the institutional prejudice of those already in it -- and often more so than they are from other professions. Denying that doesn't make it not true.

His comment is especially odd considering he soon after says he believes that nerdy men ARE more likely to have misogyny issues:

> "... as I see it, whenever these nerdy males pull themselves out of the ditch the world has tossed them into, while still maintaining enlightened liberal beliefs, including in the inviolable rights of every woman and man, they don’t deserve blame for whatever feminist shortcomings they might still have. They deserve medals at the White House."

3) He blames the crippling social anxiety which was the cause of his problems on feminism

> "... the newfound confidence, besides making me more attractive, also made me able to (for example) ask a woman out, despite not being totally certain that my doing so would pass muster with a committee of radfems chaired by Andrea Dworkin ... This, to my mind, 'defiance' of feminism is the main reason why I was able to enjoy a few years of a normal, active dating life, which then led to meeting the woman who I married."

This is possibly the first time I have seen feminism defined as an imaginary committee chaired by Andrea Dworkin charged with monitoring acceptable dating etiquette. He made something up in his head to explain his terror, called it feminism, and then blamed feminism for the problem.
posted by kyrademon at 3:43 AM on December 31, 2014 [34 favorites]


Your dismissal of other people's lived personal experiences strikes me as being blind to your own mental health privilege.

O RLY?
posted by PMdixon at 4:08 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


He blames the crippling social anxiety which was the cause of his problems on feminism

Not feminism, the *disapproving floating head of the ghost of Andrea Dworkin*, a spectre he made up from scratch to project his anxiety on.

Edit: which you said on the next paragraph. I'm due for a couple of coffees before commenting again, sorry.
posted by sukeban at 4:55 AM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


"...I would absolutely have traded places with any of the people you mentioned—the poor black kid, the gay kid, any of them." (x)

*picks up jaw from the floor * I'm genuinely stunned any white dude in America at this particular point in time has the unmitigated gall to say something like this


Really? Because I said this upthread. In my lived adolescent and post-adolescent experience, being black was less problematic than being male.

Clearly not globally true, but still how I perceived the world.
posted by Octaviuz at 6:42 AM on December 31, 2014


"...I would absolutely have traded places with any of the people you mentioned—the poor black kid, the gay kid, any of them."

Clearly not globally true,...


He said "any of them," as in "globally true." I think we're in agreement that SA made a generalization he ought not have.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 6:57 AM on December 31, 2014


I've never met anyone who couldn't imagine something worse. Perhaps this is merely an imaginative failure on his part.

I have absolutely met guys in tech who construe their personal experience as *extra-special worse* because they aren't allowed to talk about it. Silenced all their lives, doncha know. And they were jealous/angry that, like, at least there are support groups for survivors of rape. And, you know, there's Black History Month.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:01 AM on December 31, 2014 [9 favorites]



I think it's worth noting that at least IMO, having talked to a lot of these kinds of guys over the years(and been friends with, or lived with them) that i think this guy is sort of the magneto to the young xmen of terrible nerdy dudes.


Magneto is the best mutant. Aaronson is in a sense the "best" terrible nerdy dude, but I think this comparison does a disservice to Magneto.

On the "I would have traded places with anyone" issue: again, it's not the fact that he had this feeling as a teen, it's the fact that he doubles down on it as some kind of empirical proof of just how oppressed he was and how sad the lives of nerdy white teens really are. "I imagined that my life would have been better as a member of an oppressed group because I imagined that I would have had group solidarity to sustain me, whereas my then-loneliness seemed to devour my life" is an okay statement.

I could easily see someone thinking "hey, if I were a gay guy I could express my feelings and participate easily in hook-up culture and hung out at the gay bookstore where everyone would have accepted me" while having no visceral understanding of why there's, like, a gay bookstore in the first place because of being a teenager without actual gay friends. Just like I wouldn't be upset at someone who, as a teenager, wished that he could have had an arranged marriage in the shtetl, because I assume that his idea of an arranged marriage is basically romantic and idealized and involves love and happy times. "I idealized this thing that is actually kind of bad because my idealized version would have solved all my problems" is an okay statement. I mean, if being queer was all hook-ups, dance parties and hanging out at the special bookstore where everyone is friends, who wouldn't want to be queer, right?

I feel like he gets "telling the truth of what my feelings were and my experience was" confused with "my feelings and experience reflect an empirical truth". No one is challenging the fact that he felt what he felt, because he is the only person who knows what that was (although memory is a tricky thing, etc etc).
posted by Frowner at 7:08 AM on December 31, 2014 [22 favorites]


This would make sense only if you didn't bother to actually read all his comments. He specifically makes the point, more than once, that he is NOT trying to avoid criticism or provide justification for anything, he's just explaining his own struggles growing up as a nerdy Jewish guy.

He can say that all he wants - the point is that when the rather salient point that his struggles are exactly that - his, and thus he should stop blaming outside forces for them, his response has been to point to his suffering as justification. And let's not forget that he brought this all up when people pointed out that he's not nearly the feminist he thinks he is.

Words count less than actions.

What exactly do you think he needs to "justify", anyway?

Again, he's trying to show that he is a feminist (even though his statements and conduct rather belie that), and that we should be impressed that he remained such, in light of the suffering he faced.

To which my response has been pretty much "get over yourself".
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:09 AM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's not us disregarding mental health issues. It's Scott Aaronson.

Which was my point.
posted by Jahaza at 7:20 AM on December 31, 2014


It's not about there actually being people saying that asking girls out is disallowed. It's about kids mistakenly inferring that, because they are kids (hence: inexperienced with the world), and specifically nerdy shy kids (hence: they are denser than most when it comes to social interaction).

You're not talking about nerdy shy kids, you're talking about nerdy shy boys. You're taking an experience the author notes as explicitly gendered and talking about it as though it's some kind of universal touchstone. There are millions of shy, nerdy, awkward girls and women, but not too many of us are writing essays about how resentful we are that men aren't served up to us on a silver platter like they used to be. I wonder why that is...

Let me preface this next part by saying that I am a guy who agrees with feminists about 95% of the time.

I love that you felt the need to say this -- feminists are not a monolithic entity. We don't even agree with each other 95% of the time.

...what amazes me about this dynamic is that it takes boy children who already want to treat girls well and misunderstands them to the point that they somehow become the enemy for failing to figure out something that nobody bothered to tell them. (And I'm talking about children, that's why I'm using the words 'girls' and 'boys'.)

Seriously, that's their problem: they are so scared that they might not treat girls well enough that they can't bring themselves to interact with girls at all. They already take for granted that girls should be treated well, they just don't know how. These are boys that already, correctly, believe that women are people too. And a lot of feminists don't even believe they exist! They believe that shyness and awkwardness is always just an act. Maybe it's an act for some other guys, but it's very real for these guys.


What are you talking about? Most of this thread has been nerdy people talking about how they've struggled but ultimately came to understand that it's THEIR responsibility to figure out how to interact with other people. Where are all the feminists denying that awkward boys exist? We know that shy and awkward people exist because many of us are shy and awkward people ourselves. Shyness and awkwardness are not inherently male traits, and neither are rejection, yearning, or feeling shame for your desires.

I could fill a set of encyclopedias with moaning about the years of painful rejection I experienced as an ugly, boy-crazy girl (now an ugly woman), but I have no interest in doing so because I understand that men do not owe me affection or attention, so my experiences have engendered no bitterness in me. It's just a thing that is. But SA and many, many other men believe they are owed something that they did not receive -- even now, after getting married and becoming a father, SA is miffed that he didn't grow up in the good old days when, it seems he believes, every man had a woman provided to him without having to expend any effort.

Boys who don't know how to treat girls well do not, as you insist, believe that women are people. Specifying that "they don't know how to treat girls well" admits as much. Because you don't see them struggling so mightily with treating other boys well, do you? No. Most of them know not to touch other boys, not to ask them uncomfortable questions, not to follow them around or stare at them or write creepy stories about them. They only forget the basic rules of the game of life when it comes to girls.

If you know how to treat people well, you know how to treat girls well, because girls are people. If you insist that you know how to treat people well but that you don't know how to treat girls well, you're saying that girls aren't people. And if you don't know how to treat people well, that's an issue that goes far beyond any perceived gendered divide, and it's certainly not the responsibility of feminists to figure it out and blaze a trail for you.

These should be the easiest boys in the world to make into feminist allies.

OK, but to be clear, it's not my or any other woman's job to make shy, awkward boys into feminist allies; it's a job for other men. So instead of telling women how we just need to understand men a little better, I would really love it if dudes would just take responsibility for this whole deal, because while I understand that you want us make things easier for you, I'm super-busy painting my nails, deep-conditioning my hair, and trying not to let my government take away my bodily autonomy once and for all.

Rather than complaining about how women just need to be nicer to and more accepting of shy, awkward boys -- a reprimand always delivered as though there are no shy, awkward women with overwhelming, psychologically damaging social cue struggles of our own -- please make it your goal to tell the boys and men in your life that there is no reason to fear us, and remind them that believing that women are inherently more difficult to understand or interact with is fundamentally incompatible with taking us seriously as human beings. TIA.
posted by divined by radio at 7:25 AM on December 31, 2014 [51 favorites]


[Couple comments removed, chill.]
posted by cortex at 7:53 AM on December 31, 2014


But if you are in that game, then it is everybody's responsibility to help a child, no matter what their gender expression.

For men looking for gender equity, it's doubly their responsibility (and should be doubly their pleasure) to take on parenting roles and mentoring roles for boys and young men. First because those youths need male role models to develop social and life skills founded in gender equity. Second because parenting work is traditionally dumped on women as unpaid, unnoticed second-shift work that men who want to be equal should own a share of. Feminist men who are looking for leadership opportunities, this is a place where you can shine.
posted by immlass at 7:53 AM on December 31, 2014 [5 favorites]


Deoridhe:
"... the way they treat other people and make friends the way you make friends with other people."
Yeah, we don't know how to do that either. Hell, I'm 41 now and if we ever moved I'd have to rely on my wife for making new friends.
posted by charred husk at 8:50 AM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


Aaronson's posted a followup.

Doubling down on the willful ignorance and slapping on a coat of patronizing head-patting.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:15 AM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


If you know how to treat people well, you know how to treat girls well, because girls are people.

I want to put this on a billboard.

The response I've gotten to this IRL is "but I have to treat girls differently because I'm attracted to them!" To which the reply is: Okay, but you don't know if they're attracted to you, and seriously, you're not attracted to every last one of them. Most people are not attracted to most other people. Imagine you discovered you had feelings for a male friend; how would you approach him about it? Just do that.
posted by heisenberg at 9:35 AM on December 31, 2014 [13 favorites]


OK, but to be clear, it's not my or any other woman's job to make shy, awkward boys into feminist allies; it's a job for other men.

I think this is wrong, think about the implications of this idea. If you want no part in raising the next generation, that's just fine. But if you're in that game, then it's everybody's responsibility to help a child, no matter what their gender expression. And where exactly does this leave trans parents and trans children?
posted by amorphatist at 9:38 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


And where exactly does this leave trans parents and trans children?

I don't know what you mean by this and I don't think you do either.
posted by PMdixon at 9:39 AM on December 31, 2014 [10 favorites]


101-level explanation of why it is not women's job to educate men.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:14 AM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I agree strongly with everyone calling BS on the line of thinking that goes, "I totally know that girls/women are people; I just have no idea how to talk to them!" Well, talk to them like...people. Once again, I want to go back to the source, another comment of Scott's that's been bothering me. People have already well covered the grossness that is his proposed version of a sexual harassment seminar, but I got stuck on the first bit:

"In my own case, I find I have zero intuition about which men are attractive and which aren’t, even though most men seem to have at least some such intuition. Is George Clooney handsome? I guess he is, because other people say so. It’s like colorblindness.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but having an orifice penetrated? How could anyone find such an ordeal pleasurable, or even non-horrible? There’s a failure of imagination here, a philosophical problem of other minds, for which no intellectual understanding can fully compensate.

And this failure of imagination has major implications for young, inexperienced male nerds. A cute girl in class is smiling at you, goes up to talk to you. Could it mean she’s attracted? Could it even mean she thinks about you in the same sort of way you think about her?

No, it couldn’t possibly. You wouldn’t be sexually attracted to a hairy creature that looked like you, so why would someone else be? The very impossibility of imagining how your hopes could be true—or rather, of simulating the mental states of the other person that would make them true—feels like evidence that they’ve got to be false.

The only cure for this problem that I know about is experience. If it turns out enough times that, holy cow, she was attracted to you, then at some point it becomes like the double-slit experiment: no, on some deep level, you can’t grasp how the world could be this way, but you learn to proceed as though it is."


I cut out a part at the beginning where he mentions the autism-spectrum, so it is unclear whether he considers himself to be on it or not. However, though he refers to his own failure of imagination (and uses the phrase twice!) I see one more. He thinks the only solution is experience; I say it's a failure of the culture we're all mired in. How many movies, video games, tv shows, and books are released that focus on a straight male protagonist, with male feelings being the only ones explored, and with women as merely objects of desire?

Put another way, I'm a woman, but I know how to evaluate the attractiveness of other women. Since I was tiny, I've been taught how by magazines, advertisements, movies, etc. and have even at times policed my own appearance so that I fit into that ideal a little better. I think it's fair to say that women understand men a lot more than men understand women, because how could we not? It was only once I purposely sought out more female-focused media, created by other women, that I saw just how many other stories centered around (straight, white) men's lives, thoughts, feelings, dreams, and lust. Reading more books by people of color (and other genders/orientations), didn't hurt either, especially as a straight, cis, white woman.

What we need is not one more manual to help nerdy boys understand themselves and understand women, from a man who really does not understand women yet but thinks he does (for chrissakes, the above is him spitballing about a book he wants to write to help nerdy, shy boys). What we need is to expose all people, especially children, to more stories by and about women and girls, and to make more. The same goes for any group that doesn't fit into straight, white, cis man.
posted by j.r at 10:17 AM on December 31, 2014 [25 favorites]


For women, being physically attractive to men can be essentially a survival trait. For men, being attractive to women is a nice thing, but isn't going to impact your earning potential or career. In fact, it's more important for men to 'dress to impress' (ie, dress in ways that gain the approval of other men).
posted by empath at 10:25 AM on December 31, 2014


And not to put too fine a point on it, but having an orifice penetrated? How could anyone find such an ordeal pleasurable, or even non-horrible?

So, he's never been kissed?

There’s a failure of imagination here, a philosophical problem of other minds, for which no intellectual understanding can fully compensate.

The irony is that most nerds love sf, which is all about stretching the imagination. How is it that they can imagine what it's like to be an orc or an uploaded computer program or an insectoid alien, but vaginas are just too weird man?

It reminds me of another nerdy post, made by a philosophically trained adult male (and also an sf fan), which was all about how men were objectively uglier than women and how women didn't have to spend any appreciable time to be beautiful. Just breathtaking blindness.

The thing is, I think this attitude is taught. When I was a kid, there was a lot of pressure from other boys to avoid girly things. It's a lot of dumb enforcement of dumb gender roles which is not, to put it lightly, good training for dealing with women.
posted by zompist at 10:40 AM on December 31, 2014 [17 favorites]


"The thing is, I think this attitude is taught. When I was a kid, there was a lot of pressure from other boys to avoid girly things. It's a lot of dumb enforcement of dumb gender roles which is not, to put it lightly, good training for dealing with women." [x]

Thanks for pointing that out. There really isn't as much pressure on the other side to avoid boyish things (being unattractive or too outspoken notwithstanding), so it's helpful to hear from a dude there. Excellent point about the sci-fi too; I've also seen a lot of blowback when it comes to race ("you can imagine magic, dragons, and aliens, but it's impossible that a black man exists in this fictional medieval setting you've created?!").

One thing that gives me hope, is that when Nickelodeon objected to Legend of Korra having a female protagonist, the (male) creators fought back. In focus groups boys were asked if it was a problem that Korra was a girl, and they said it wasn't at all. And now the world has a TV show with many multifaceted female characters, who interact with each other and experience character development, with their own lives that sometimes involve but never revolve around men. More of that, please!
posted by j.r at 10:50 AM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


Wow, I must have been skimming too much, I missed this bit of profoundly ignorant heterosexism:

And not to put too fine a point on it, but having an orifice penetrated? How could anyone find such an ordeal pleasurable, or even non-horrible? There’s a failure of imagination here, a philosophical problem of other minds, for which no intellectual understanding can fully compensate.

That's a stellar statement too! Wow, this guy is just full of them! I understand that he's trying to show us how hard it is for him to imagine what it's like to be a woman, but in the process he's kind of aligning womanness with being all about getting penetrated. Perhaps he's managed to avoid hearing the bad news?

Would this key statistical information about women have given him yet another complex as a teen?

Can I blow his mind by telling him that men are just as capable of enjoying the sensation of being penetrated in their available orifice? And if he finds that idea so intellectually baffling, he could always bring it out of abstraction and get himself the slimmest of first hand experience? Unless he doesn't have any orifices. Which would explain a lot, actually.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:59 AM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


Whenever I think this guy can't get worse, somehow he never disappoints. I also missed the "vaginas are so WACKY and INCOMPREHENSIBLE" idiocy.
posted by corb at 11:15 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Today's update is pretty awesome.

Is this what Less Wrong is like?
posted by PMdixon at 11:31 AM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


Can I blow his mind by telling him that men are just as capable of enjoying the sensation of being penetrated in their available orifice?

I assume he's familiar with topology. I'm fairly sure that he could imagine a 1-to-1 mapping between the points on his penis and the points on a vagina. It's not like it takes a huge leap of imagination there.
posted by empath at 11:49 AM on December 31, 2014


I can't for the life of me understand today's update, and I'm having trouble giving it a charitable reading, so I'd be really grateful if anyone who understands what he's trying to say could explain it.
posted by heisenberg at 11:52 AM on December 31, 2014


From the linked update:
The first concession is that, as Laurie Penny maintained, my problems weren’t caused by feminism, but rather by the Patriarchy. One thing I’ve learned these last few days is that, as many people use it, the notion of “Patriarchy” is sufficiently elastic as to encompass almost anything about the relations between the sexes that is, or has ever been, bad or messed up—regardless of who benefits, who’s hurt, or who instigated it. So if you tell such a person that your problem was not caused by the Patriarchy, it’s as if you’ve told a pious person that a certain evil wasn’t the Devil’s handiwork: the person has trouble even parsing what you said, since within her framework, “evil” and “Devil-caused” are close to synonymous. If you want to be understood, far better just to agree that it was Beelzebub and be done with it.
He just comes from the land of unfortunate comparisons. He can't help it.
posted by sukeban at 11:57 AM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


I mean, if being queer was all hook-ups, dance parties and hanging out at the special bookstore where everyone is friends, who wouldn't want to be queer, right?

And I mean... I'm a sex-positive guy and I think it's great that gay culture is, by and large, sex-positive. But speaking specifically about the gay male end of the spectrum, he also seems to be making this error that some of my straight male friends have, where because they're imagining this idealized casual hook-up culture in which gay men have access to sex whenever they want it, they can't imagine how being thrown in the deep end of that as a gay teenager could possibly end up harming them. They know about Grindr and Craigslist m4m and the "what second date" joke, but they don't know about the parts like: having to negotiate advances where you feel physically intimidated or scared, or having a nervous breakdown while you wait for your test results after an anonymous hookup (regardless of whether you were having "objectively" safe sex), or the new awareness you may develop of exactly how your body fails to live up to mainstream sexual fantasies (look at how much more common eating disorders are in gay men vs. straight men, for example), or how promiscuity can be compulsive and scary and something you feel you lack control over, etc., etc.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:59 AM on December 31, 2014 [13 favorites]


Also, I have never understood why "So what, I'm supposed to say 'do you want to kiss?'" is considered some kind of show stopping retort. Sure, that's a thing you could do. It's a thing I've done. It does not ruin sex if you use your words. I promise!

Unless your words are condescending and passive aggressive, I guess.
posted by PMdixon at 12:02 PM on December 31, 2014 [12 favorites]


I can't for the life of me understand today's update, and I'm having trouble giving it a charitable reading, so I'd be really grateful if anyone who understands what he's trying to say could explain it.

Here is the thinking:

"People disagree with me, despite the fact that my logic is perfectly sound and unassailable. Therefore, they must be doing it on the basis of some other criteria, such as the use of language. Perhaps if I rephrase it using their preferred nomenclature, they will suddenly see the rightness of my cause."

It's the same kind of 'language-is-magical' horseshit behind a lot of the gamer-gate rhetoric and the sovereign citizen movement.

The problem is that if people don't agree with you, it could be because either A) your argument is wrong, or B) there are reasons beyond logic to hold a political position (ie, self-preservation). Modifying your language or trying to continuously re-explain your position from different directions doesn't really resolve either issue.
posted by empath at 12:04 PM on December 31, 2014 [12 favorites]


“Privilege” simply struck me as a pompous, cumbersome way to describe such situations: why not just say that person A’s life stinks in this way, and person B’s stinks in that way?

Because, Scott, there is a vast, vast difference between "I have hang-ups about the other sex that cause me anxiety" and "society and culture is structured in ways that benefit certain groups at the expense, often significantly, of others".

For your own sake, please put down the shovel.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:07 PM on December 31, 2014 [19 favorites]


NoxAeternum:
"For your own sake, please put down the shovel."
Yeah, in the very beginning I was all like, "I've been there, I know EXACTLY what he's talking about. Looks like he's close and I'm looking forward to see how he learns and responds," to, "Scott. Scott. OMG Scott. Stahp."

I really does make me wonder what factors into how people like us (Scott & me, I mean) end up in such different places. I have friends like this who have slid into the self-pitying, women-blaming pit and others who managed to crawl out. It seems the ones in the pit are always the ones who are most confident about their own rightness (not just about this subject but about things in general).
posted by charred husk at 12:23 PM on December 31, 2014 [8 favorites]


It seems the ones in the pit are always the ones who are most confident about their own rightness

Well, if you already know everything, why would you need to listen to anyone else?

(Why no there's no voice of experience in that )
posted by PMdixon at 12:28 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'll be the first to admit that realizing how little I truly knew was the big step towards actually understanding.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:38 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


I can't for the life of me understand today's update, and I'm having trouble giving it a charitable reading, so I'd be really grateful if anyone who understands what he's trying to say could explain it.

It seems like he's sincerely trying to reach common ground and maybe we should all cut the guy some slack. He still has issues but he's come a lot farther in a few days than many men do in a lifetime.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:39 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I dunno. I'm having a hard time giving it a charitable reading as well. He basically says that, (1) since "Patriarchy" is apparently a meaningless term that encompasses everything, sure he'll say "Patriarchy" is the cause of his problems if that makes people happier, and (2) since everyone has "privilege" is some ways and lacks "privilege" in other ways, "privilege" is obviously a completely useless term but again, he'll use it now since it seems to make people happy.

That doesn't strike me as trying to find common ground. It strikes me as saying, "You are clearly irrational and your arguments are meaningless, but nonetheless I will condescend to use your magic words if that is what it takes to make you stop yelling at me. Fair enough?"
posted by kyrademon at 12:53 PM on December 31, 2014 [28 favorites]


Jacqueline, I'm actively trying to cut him some slack by looking for an interpretation of his update that means something other than "fine I'll just use the words you like, even though they're wrong, and then I'll repeat the same thing I've been saying all along while substituting in the words you like" but I'm having trouble getting there.

(And thanks, empath and kyrademon.)
posted by heisenberg at 12:56 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd be really grateful if anyone who understands what he's trying to say could explain it.

I'll try, and I'll try to keep commentary out of it. For people who want the primary source without my distortions, it's at the bottom of this post. This is a summary of Aaronson's post and does not reflect my opinions.

Aaronson begins by saying that he is open to changing his mind in the face of new evidence. He then offers two concessions, both of which come with caveats.

The first is that he concedes his problems weren't caused by feminism, but instead by the patriarchy. His caveat here is that he finds the term 'the patriarchy' to be inspecific: he says it can be applied to basically anything bad about interactions between men and women, regardless of who benefits, who suffers, or who is at fault. Because it is a term that can encompass so much, he claims many of the people who use it cannot understand claims that problems between men and women could have a cause that is not the patriarchy. He says that this issue notwithstanding he will adopt the "other side’s terms of reference" and use 'the patriarchy' in the interest of being understood.

The second concession is that he has been the beneficiary of straight white male privilege all his life. As with the first point, there's a big caveat: he repeats that the misery he suffered is about at the theoretical maximum anyone could ever suffer, and he also repeats his assertion that he would have traded places with someone who was not a straight white male. Further, he thinks the term 'privilege' is clumsy puffery. Instead, he would prefer that people specifically point out the features, good and bad, of other people's situations, and that unless two people are actively hurting each other it would be simpler and clearer not to compare their lives.

He closes by claiming that people who are attached to the word 'privilege' are using it as a shibboleth, and that if he won't use the term they will conclude he doesn't think prejudices like racism, sexism, or homophobia exist. While he thinks the term 'privilege' is a bad way to talk about these problems, he does think racism, sexism, and homophobia exist, so he will use the term to prevent further misunderstandings.
posted by amery at 12:59 PM on December 31, 2014 [8 favorites]


Someone get that medal from the white house ready to go, then!

Sorry, Jacqueline. I see what you're saying, but I think I'm still frustrated and disgusted after reading way too far down on that first comment thread of his. I was hoping to find a point where something got through to him, but I didn't. His most recent update is a sign that he does want to be open-minded,* but up until then, all I saw was him giving lip-service to "of course women are equal to men" but then doubling down on "here's why your arguments are wrong" and "here's why the male nerd psyche is special and way more difficult to deal with." Before that it looked like he fixated the most on the part where Laurie Penny says he's kind and intelligent, and proceeded to explain why the rest shouldn't apply to him. He quotes:

"'And Aaronson is not a misogynist. Aaronson is obviously a compassionate, well-meaning and highly intelligent man' [damn straight—SA]"

In the end, yeah, he does have a ways to go, and based on his interactions to date I'd feel pretty uncomfortable being a woman in his classroom or lab. From his personal page, he doesn't actually have any women as phd students anyway (unless I'm mistaken). Has he ever wondered why?

*On preview, kyrademon, heisenberg, and amery all make very good points. Even with his concessions it feels like he's doing it because he wants to appear open-minded, but the grudging way he does it is leaving a lot to be desired for me.
posted by j.r at 1:05 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


[Couple comments removed, please try to be thoughtful about use of dismissive "crazy" stuff in conversation.]
posted by cortex at 1:14 PM on December 31, 2014


Even with his concessions it feels like he's doing it because he wants to appear open-minded

That really sums it up, doesn't it? He wants everyone to consider him an ally without all that heavy lifting of actually understanding the terms that he tosses around. And when people are rather understandably pissed, he gives us the old "but I'm being logical, so it's that you just don't understand logic" routine.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:22 PM on December 31, 2014 [5 favorites]


He's still convinced that feminism is partly to blame for what happened to him. It's bullshit.

I had the EXACT same problems in talking to girls he describes. The fear of offending a girl when you make you feelings known comes from fear; fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, fear of shame and failure. I masked it in, "I'm trying to be considerate of her feelings and I know she has no interest in me so I won't offend her by asking." He's masking it in "I'm a good feminist and I must be passive instead of assertive."

It's bullshit. It all comes down to fear and how you try to cover for it. Every time.
posted by charred husk at 1:40 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


He still has issues but he's come a lot farther in a few days than many men do in a lifetime.

Yay he's almost at the point where he treats women like humans!

Seriously, its not a miracle for him to progress. Its what he is supposed to do. I did it. And BTW it didn't take me nearly as long. Partly because I never blamed feminism or women.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:48 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


“Privilege” simply struck me as a pompous, cumbersome way to describe such situations: why not just say that person A’s life stinks in this way, and person B’s stinks in that way?

I'm always struck by how some people, smart people, remain willfully blind to the systemic nature of some kinds of societal and cultural structures. Usually they (we) do this when it benefits us (them) to do so, and generally it's unconscious if we're not total assholes. Still, it's weird to see in action.
posted by rtha at 2:01 PM on December 31, 2014 [11 favorites]


"I have hang-ups about the other sex that cause me anxiety" is something that happens to most everybody at some point, especially in the teenage years. This man asked for chemical castration because his anxiety was so great. That's pretty dismissive of his experience.
posted by amorphatist at 2:06 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure where he progressed, frankly. I can't accept that his "concession" on use of language (using words like privilege, but telling us it's all bullshit and meaningless and he's only doing it because we are) is progress of any kind. His position hasn't changed in the slightest. He's still the world's most oppressed person, and we can call it "the Patriarchy" if we like, but his suffering is still feminism's fault, and he still deserves a medal at the White House. World's Best And Most Feminist Man, Who (AMAZINGLY!!!) Still Thinks Women Should Be Treated Well Even Though Women in General and Feminism In Particular Have Hurt Him More Than Any Other Human Has Ever Been Hurt In The History Of HumanKind.
posted by Hildegarde at 2:10 PM on December 31, 2014 [5 favorites]


FFS, I'll try again: Why care so much about the ramblings of a guy whose contributions are no more valuable than those of the Time Cube guy?
posted by five fresh fish at 2:12 PM on December 31, 2014


But the focus of his anxiety is not the same thing as the cause of his anxiety. He does not appear able to make this distinction.
posted by PMdixon at 2:13 PM on December 31, 2014 [13 favorites]


FFS, I'll try again: Why care so much about the ramblings of a guy whose contributions are no more valuable than those of the Time Cube guy?

Because he's a brilliant mathematician and computer scientist and professor at MIT with an influential blog. If you're interested in increasing the numbers of women in STEM fields, the opinions of men like him matter a great deal.
posted by empath at 2:15 PM on December 31, 2014 [11 favorites]


Yay he's almost at the point where he treats women like humans

If only that was universally expected.

It's really amazing watching the reactions here. It's almost as if he Is To Be Destroyed No Matter What and there is No Consistency In Terms of Expectations About Treating People Talking About Their Experiences Decently.

Dismiss, destroy, repeat.
posted by rr at 2:21 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


So, is there anyone, anyone at all in this thread that read what SA had to say, thought about it (instead of immediately mentally filing him away as just a Red Pill type and picking his words apart)?

Is there really no one who now feels they have a better understanding of the kind of anxiety and paralysis he described? No one here who has reconsidered, for example, how feminism is being presented to young men, as a result of reading what he's written? Anyone willing to concede on ANY level that maybe this could be done better, make some suggestions for more positive interactions that don't stigmatize and/or traumatize young men and provide support and guidance instead?

Because I was thinking maybe the people who liked Laura Penny's response to him so much might want to try empathizing and building bridges a little bit, too.

Or would allowing yourself to go there at all just be regressing and not worth your time?
posted by misha at 2:41 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


FFS, I'll try again: Why care so much about the ramblings of a guy whose contributions are no more valuable than those of the Time Cube guy?
Contributions to what? He's a leading researcher in quantum computation and complexity theory.

I'm pretty disappointed by his followups, which pretty much read as "I'm right, and the fact that you disagree just means that I haven't found the right way to communicate it yet", but downright upset by the comments on his blog, which are largely of the form "Yeah, finally someone speaking truth to power!"
posted by dfan at 2:41 PM on December 31, 2014 [8 favorites]


Dude wanted to be castrated. Is plainly not healthy. Has been ripped to shreds over and over and over in this thread. Something I thought we didn't do to the ill. Further, our savaging of him here does nothing to remediate any damage he's doing over there. IMO, MeFi is just bloodletting for bloodletting's sake now. What is being accomplished at this point? When does it stop? When we hate him so loudly and strongly that he STFUs or curls up and dies?

I think we are all, literally all, in agreement that he's wrong. Now what? Cut him up some more?
posted by five fresh fish at 2:45 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


Aaronson is damaged. He conflates his own personal suffering with institutional, systemic, legislative sexism. Clearly that is wrong: no matter how much his subjective lived experience sucks, the system hasn't held him back, as he's an MIT prof, a successful married guy with a kid.

But Laurie Penny explains that stuff better than we do.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:52 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


Because I was thinking maybe the people who liked Laura Penny's response to him so much might want to try empathizing and building bridges a little bit, too.

Do you think that maybe some of us reacting with frustration are frustrated because of the many, many, countless times we have tried empathizing and building bridges with people acting exactly like Aaronson is acting? And that maybe his unwillingness to consider doing the same thing in return adds to the frustration?

Honestly, he's had so many bridges built just in his own comments section that he's willfully refused to even take one step onto, that it makes me want to take every stone of empathy I've ever built into a bridge to someone that stubbornly in denial after having been gentled with so many kid gloves, and bash myself over the head with it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:53 PM on December 31, 2014 [19 favorites]


The continued argument that criticism of Aaronson necessarily means people are insufficiently sympathetic toward him, in spite of the continued outflow of empathy he's received even from many of his critics, is pretty unconvincing.

We understand. He had a rough time. Many of us had the same rough time, or a time that was rough in new exciting ways that Aaronson never had the displeasure of experiencing. His experiences are real and they matter, but they are not the only real experiences that matter forever and ever amen, and the conversation needs to allow for the fact that a person can have a rough time and still take part in the "This Be The Verse"-style man-hands-on-misery-to-man merry-go-round.

A lot of the pain out there is directed disproportionally along the axes of power and oppression that we've built up. This doesn't mean there's no pain on the upward side of those power relations, and it doesn't mean that pain is irrelevant. It also doesn't mean that we need to focus on that pain to the exclusion of all else, or that we need to give relatively advantaged people who've suffered a get-out-of-criticism-free card they can redeem when they do things that perpetuate these power relations.
posted by amery at 2:55 PM on December 31, 2014 [12 favorites]


When I had just read Aaronson's comment #171, and I read Laurie Penny's essay, I was 100% ready to give Aaronson as much benefit of the doubt as possible. Her response to him was so kind, and compassionate, but also educating, in a way that I certainly don't have the inclination or effort to do, that I thought if anything could reach him, that that would be the thing. Seeing his follow-up? That benefit of the doubt is gone. I hope he'll keep reading and learning and maybe at some point come to some sort of understanding about the nature of systemic privilege, but I don't see how anyone still reading at this point would think it's worth their time to try to educate him anymore. He's not listening.
posted by matcha action at 3:03 PM on December 31, 2014 [8 favorites]


Is there really no one who now feels they have a better understanding of the kind of anxiety and paralysis he described?

Once again - been there, done that, have the t-shirt. And yet I (and several others here) came away with vastly different viewpoints from our own experience.

no one here who has reconsidered, for example, how feminism is being presented to young men, as a result of reading what he's written?

Except his issue wasn't "how feminism was presented", but his choice of engaging with the field in a very superficial way, which left him with a number of false impressions. Which, had he actually engaged with real, honest to goodness active feminists, would have been quickly debunked.

Anyone willing to concede on ANY level that maybe this could be done better, make some suggestions for more positive interactions that don't stigmatize and/or traumatize young men and provide support and guidance instead?

The only way I can figure that the concept of treating women as people could be traumatizing or stigmatizing to a young man is if the idea that they aren't is so ingrained into their psyche that it is integral to their being.

In which case, they have bigger problems.

Because I was thinking maybe the people who liked Laura Penny's response to him so much might want to try empathizing and building bridges a little bit, too.

Discourse requires two parties working in good faith who are willing to come to understand the viewpoint of the other side. Especially in light of today's "I'll use your meaningless words to make you happy" update, I would argue that good faith has been severely lacking on his side.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:03 PM on December 31, 2014 [15 favorites]


I suffered from crippling social anxiety for a decade after being bullied and school and dealing with abuse at home. I still jump if someone touches me unexpectedly, even my fiancée. I never developed elaborate conspiracy theories about how out-groups somehow conspired to make my life miserable. My life was miserable because of the individuals that made me miserable, and my fucked up reaction to it. It was always within my power to get over it. Dwelling on what you imagine that others are doing to you, rather than what you can control (your own behavior and thoughts) is a recipe for madness.
posted by empath at 3:11 PM on December 31, 2014 [6 favorites]


At least now whenever anyone wonders why feminists aren't willing spend their time and energy carefully and kindly educating every person who is clueless or confused about feminism and privilege, we have (yet another) perfect example.
posted by matcha action at 3:12 PM on December 31, 2014 [10 favorites]


I agree with five fresh fish. People here are talking as if he was just recounting teenage sorrows, "why wouldn't the nice girls like me" sort of thing. I don't think it's anything so typical: he wanted to be gay, to be black, to be a woman, to be castrated; and he doesn't seem to realise this is weird; on the contrary, he believes it proves the power and the purity of his angst. He's either been carrying this around for twenny-thirty years or he's had a reflorescence of it; either way, it's troubling.

This isn't the sort of thing that can be corrected by a patient explanation that "those girls are people too you know". At the very least, dude needs therapy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:13 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


At least now whenever anyone wonders why feminists aren't willing spend their time and energy carefully and kindly educating every person who is clueless or confused about feminism and privilege, we have (yet another) perfect example.

Lewis' Law never fails.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:14 PM on December 31, 2014


Yeah, in the very beginning I was all like, "I've been there, I know EXACTLY what he's talking about. Looks like he's close and I'm looking forward to see how he learns and responds," to, "Scott. Scott. OMG Scott. Stahp."

No need to drag Creed into this.
posted by Kwine at 3:21 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


make some suggestions for more positive interactions that don't stigmatize and/or traumatize young men

Positive interactions with whom? Women? Women aren't the cause of his problems.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 3:28 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


For the stalwarts still following this thread, here's my blog post about Aaronson. To be honest, it's basically what Laurie Penny said, only not as good.
posted by escabeche at 3:31 PM on December 31, 2014 [6 favorites]


So, is there anyone, anyone at all in this thread that read what SA had to say, thought about it (instead of immediately mentally filing him away as just a Red Pill type and picking his words apart)?

Laurie Penny has done exactly this, and been commended for it by pretty much everyone. He has responded....Has the way he has responded to her made you think that She Just Did It Wrong and Needs to Try Again? And Again? Her writing to him was pretty much the ideal, and he has responded to it in ways that do not make me think he has actually thought much about it, but instead is intent on picking it apart so that he is not the one who's wrong. What do you think of his response to her? Do you think it's on the right track, or is there advice you would give to him about thinking and not picking?
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on December 31, 2014 [22 favorites]


This isn't the sort of thing that can be corrected by a patient explanation that "those girls are people too you know". At the very least, dude needs therapy.

I agree, but at the same time, I doubt that it would work, because he's pretty clearly unwilling to engage in some introspection.

Which is why I would imagine that his therapist whom he asked about chemical castration was at a loss for treating him - because you can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:01 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


This whole conversation came about because a female student was sexually harassed by someone Aaronson and his fans admire, and Aaronson took to his blog to bemoan the fact that his employer had opted not to publish the work of the aggressor, forcing students to (gasp) torrent the videos if they wanted them. From the comments there, I learned that sexual harassment isn't that big a deal, MIT overreacted, and the administration is simply "trying to make a point" by opting not to give a man who sexually harasses students space on their servers. Aaronson classifies the decision as "radical." At no time does he or most of his readers consider the suffering of the student. In fact, that suffering has been completely disregarded, dismissed, or outright denied. If you're going to ask me to display more empathy for a guy who continues insist that his pain is worse than that student's, worse than mine, and worse than Leelah Alcorn's, maybe we could start first showing some empathy for the actual victim at the core of this whole thing.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:04 PM on December 31, 2014 [31 favorites]


Is this what Less Wrong is like?

Power and paranoia in Silicon Valley (via)
It was refreshing to be there with Courtney, who had grown up nearby but since lived in New York, Los Angeles, and India. She told me she had started a fight during a discussion about time management and how mathematicians have a hard time getting laid. Someone proposed a solution: Employers should hire prostitutes so the mathematicians wouldn’t waste precious hours at bars. That was incredibly sexist, Courtney had said, and a shirtless man had replied, “But the heuristic is that mathematicians are male!” “Aren’t we here to think about radically different futures,” she’d said, “and, um, is it inconceivable that there might be female mathematicians?”

Great, even better, was the response. They could be the prostitutes, and the bedrooms could be mic’d with baby monitors, in case of productive pillow talk.

“So I said, ‘You think a great thing about women’s increased presence in math and science is that they can be fluffers to genius?’ ”
re: aaronson specifically, and this is kind of tangential, but -- even if he doesn't pass the don't be a dick test -- i'm intrigued by his concept of eigendemocracy (which should have obvious implications here ;) anyway, in the harper's cover story linked above it gets into blockchains [1,2,3,4,5] and ethereum by the end, which you could kind of consider an instance of eigendemocracy:
I went to the Ethereum Meetup because Buterin’s invention seemed
to allow for experimentation in consensus-building and cooperation, experiments that would start on a small scale but could efficiently grow in size, with everyone having a say in matters that concern them. [...] Ethereum’s true believers, like the people I met at Occupy, are more interested in remaking society itself. As the Internet continues to blend with the real world, decentralized contracts might become the building blocks of many decentralized forms of human governance, along libertarian or perhaps anarchist lines. [...] They might build a digital voting system; the blockchain would guarantee transparency. If these experiments worked, the group could vote to accept new members, which would make the mutual-aid system more robust and the community currency more useful. As real and virtual imbricated further, these modest cooperative entities could and would scale up. [...] Ethereum offers an answer: an opt-in system of organizing human behavior with rules that can be made radically egalitarian. What if each faction at Occupy had something like Ethereum at its disposal? Would more progress have been made; would something have emerged that couldn’t be shut down by infighting or police?

[...]

The belief that math, perfect information, and market mechanisms would solve the problem of politics seemed naïve, I said to Buterin. Sure, he said, but what was really naïve was trusting corruptible humans and opaque institutions with concentrated power. Better to formalize our values forthrightly in code. “On some level, everything is a market, even if you have a system that’s fully controlled by people in some fashion. You have a number of agents that are following specific rules, except that the rules of the system are enforced by the laws of physics instead of the laws of cryptography.

“The cryptography approach,” he added, “is superior because you have much more freedom in determining what those rules are.”
so you can see the appeal, but of course that in itself could become problematic: "what none of the enthusiasts seem to appreciate is that what we’re really dealing with is the latest re-enactment of the story of Animal Farm. That is, we’re putting a huge amount of effort into forging a socialistic and meritocratic value system, whilst overlooking how the process transfers power from one set of oppressive overlords to an even more ruthless sort." or in the case of aaronson, perhaps more than a little self-deluded in this regard?
posted by kliuless at 4:36 PM on December 31, 2014 [5 favorites]


Hildegarde: holy shit, yes! And I think he's still afraid. Why does he want MIT to release all those details so badly? I don't think it's as much for the shy nerdy boy that he once was, or for shaming Lewin further as he has said, but for the tenure-track professor making a name for himself that he now is, in an environment that is starting to think the lack of women in STEM is a problem and he is outraged that he might be complicit. Then he'll have a clear example of how not to interact with some future female student of his, since he doesn't seem to have figured out that one should simply interact with them the same as the male students (speculation based on some previous comments of his). He sees MIT erasing Lewin from their servers* and stripping him of his very valued emeritus status, and he is now terrified that the same thing could happen to him from some unintentional wrong move (even though he mentions that his colleagues in the know said it was very egregious). It's like he thought he had escaped the hell of his teenage years (and they do sound hellish), but he really hasn't, because even being married and an MIT professor doesn't make you immune from having to figure this ish out. It's sad really, and I hope he does learn something and get the help he needs.

Or maybe that's going too far? Seriously, I'm trying really hard to understand why he's digging in so hard.

*Note that MIT did not erase Lewin from the internet generally, since the videos were licensed in such a way that other people are free to host them, and they are definitely still around. With their actions, MIT was simply saying that they do not wish to associate with that sort of behavior, which is a huge step to take--it sends an enormously valuable message to women that their experiences will be taken seriously, and they will not be silenced just because the abuser is big and important.
posted by j.r at 4:38 PM on December 31, 2014 [8 favorites]


Another thing that my brain gears turned on, in response to the people saying "they just need to interact with women the way they interact with men, because women are people".

I think you're missing the point that the way these types of guys interact with men is totally fucked up. Like, go read a bunch of the worst comments on reddit for a while and that's basically what a conversation between all guys, where even just a few or one guy in the group is like this turns in to.

They have just enough awareness to realize they can't joke about women making them sandwiches and lol c**ts amirite stuff and their weird racist conspiracy theories and other shit like they do when surrounded by other Super Nerdy Dudes.

There is a distinct, and insular super nerdy dude culture. It's actively hostile to women, and honestly seems to almost pride itself on that in a subtly(and sometimes not so subtly) redpill/MRA sort of way because women lie and are histrionic and hysterical and make up false rape accusations all the time and steal valuable attention and get free passes to do things that Good Men had to work hard to get in to or do and and and.

It's very likely that the majority of dudes like this, including him, tried to interact with women the way they "bro around" with other nerdy guys, and were rightfully met with WTF and rejection because they're super offensive and scary. This isn't just about them seeing women as some mysterious other that's impossible to interact or deal with, it's about women not wanting to be around them because they're fucking terrible to be around.

It's not impossible for guys like this to grow up and learn to like, Business Voice their way through interactions with women but still believe those shitty things, and still constantly espouse women as some weird other like what's been done here.

And really, just auto find and replace in your brain every time you start reading the "i don't know how to talk to women it's all the wrong thing" type stuff with "i want to be able to be terrible with women and have them be ok with it".

This is why it doesn't really matter if his motivation to wish he was a woman or a minority came from a different place than it does when young nerdy guys say it. They aren't doing any introspection here, they're just seeing their fucking Yoda tell them they're on track and to just use the force.

The magneto comment by the way was sort of a metaphor. This guy isn't the most powerful/best nerdy dude, but he's old and wields a lot of power, and is doing so at an institution that many nerdy guys would put up there with being as cool as like, NASA or something. He, to this group of people is a patriarch in the most classical sense. They sarcastically wax on about worshiping Gabe Newell, but really worship guys like SA.

The fact that he's doubling down on all this shit is super extra fucked up because he's the emperor of everything cool to them. He's an old guy they respect telling them to just keep on keeping on with being shitty, telling them exactly what they want to hear. This is the absolute opposite of "oh jeeze grandpa, we can't call them darkies anymore". This is him announcing that we wont be backing down from the battle to a cheering crowd.

This isn't the sort of thing that can be corrected by a patient explanation that "those girls are people too you know". At the very least, dude needs therapy.

Yea, but the thing is his reasons for it don't matter. They aren't the reasons people agree with him are agreeing, they're agreeing because they want validation that straight white nerdy young dudes have it fucking awful, and possibly the fucking worst. How the audience interprets the message matters just as much, if not more, than the authors intention.

And really, i just can't get over the fact that it's a considerably powerful, respected guy at an institution that is almost worshiped confirming a bunch of young dudes most fucked up beliefs.

I honestly can't flex my giving a fuck muscle too hard about how he suffered, why, or why he thinks or believes these things. It's like a guy in a position like this writing a huge "I was falsely accused of rape, and exonerated" thing encouraging all young dudes like this to believe it's a huge epidemic they need to battle and women are compulsive liars.

It's seriously on that level of damaging to a huge portion of society, imo. A lot of very misguided and actively shitty people are going to take this and run with it.
posted by emptythought at 5:31 PM on December 31, 2014 [25 favorites]


> based on his interactions to date I'd feel pretty uncomfortable being a woman in his classroom or lab. From his personal page, he doesn't actually have any women as phd students anyway (unless I'm mistaken). Has he ever wondered why?

This is a very important point, I think. Like all faculty, SA has a professional obligation to attract, retain, and educate the best young minds -- regardless of the bodies to which they're attached -- as the next generation of scientists. Intentionally or not, however, he's effectively only reaching half of them.

I'm a shy, anxious, awkward, nerdy, Jewish, conventionally unattractive, and kinda poorly socialized woman. I'm also a physicist (by training & by attitude, though now my work has diffused into comp bio). The fact that I thrived as a woman in physics departments was entirely an accident of personalities: my own, in part, but also that of my [male] advisors who supported me. I joined the labs I wanted, did the work that most fascinated me, and never once felt unwelcome in any of my research groups. In this, I was extremely lucky.

As awkward & shy as I am now [I swear, one day I will work up the nerve to go to a meetup], I was even more awkward & shy when I attended my first conference as a rather young undergrad (I also matriculated early, though not as young as SA). During the poster session, an older professor monopolized me in conversation. I was profoundly uncomfortable, not really knowing what to say or how to extricate myself. And then, when I tried to leave, he grabbed my elbow. His grasp was firm enough that I couldn't easily pull away without making a scene. I wasn't in any immediate danger -- it was a poster session with tons of people around (though none of them seemed to notice) -- but it was completely alarming. Eventually he let me go and I scurried off to tell a female grad student. I wanted to warn her that GrabbyProf wasn't safe to be around. "He grabbed my arm!" I said, expecting her to be as shocked as I was. I'll never forget her reply: "I know it's annoying, but he's just a lonely old man."

I remember feeling completely disoriented. Up to that point, I'd truly believed that all I had to do was be smart and serious about my studies, and I'd one day be the successful physicist I'd dreamt of being since I was a [shy, ugly, awkward, Jewish, geeky] little girl. I've always been tough and stubborn, and even then I'd developed a pretty thick skin when it came to people underestimating me -- fuck their stupid prejudices! -- but at that moment, the message I got was that my intelligence, diligence, and tenacity weren't enough; I'd also need to tolerate the "annoyance" of poster session assaults. And as a socially tone-deaf girl, I then started wondering what I had missed -- how did I not see that GrabbyProf was just lonely?

I didn't tell anyone else, but somehow the story found its way back to my mentor. He asked me if it was true, and I aped the nonchalance of the grad student: yeah, it was annoying, but GrabbyProf just wanted to talk, it wasn't a big deal, I was probably being impatient, I'm sorry that I caused trouble, ....

My mentor was LIVID -- but not, to my surprise, at me. "That will NOT happen again," he told me, and calls were made and conversations were had and every future interaction I had with GrabbyProf was appropriately professional. More importantly, though, I was given a crystal clear reassurance that my intelligence, diligence, and tenacity SHOULD be enough, that I was not expected to tolerate creepiness or to fill others' emotional voids, and that my mentor would do everything in his power to make sure that I didn't have to. I felt supported and encouraged to keep being my geeky self. And so I did!

But if instead my undergrad advisor had reinforced -- or even ignored & tacitly permitted -- the boys-will-be-boys/lonely-men-will-be-lonely-men message I'd received....? I'm not sure. That's a lot to ask of a nerdy, shy, anxious, awkward 17-year-old girl.

This is one particularly dramatic example, but I was fortunate that ALL of my advisors, from undergrad to PhD to postdoc, continually demonstrated in many subtle ways that they had my back, as they had the backs of all their female students. (My PhD advisor, for instance -- a man notoriously tone-deaf in his own way -- routinely checked in with me & the other female grads to ask whether our lab was doing enough to make women feel welcome.) But not all profs were as supportive as my advisors were; many took a boys-will-be-boys attitude when issues arose. I wish I could say I chose my advisors well, but I was simply very lucky; in a field with ~13% women, it's hard to know, a priori, how supportive a potential advisor will be -- those attitudes simply aren't sampled much when it's only boys in the club.

With SA, though, we have his writing. Suppose you're a prospective female student with an interest in the work SA does. You'd be the only woman in his lab. How would you feel about the prospect of joining his group? Would you expect you'd feel welcome? Supported? Safe? How would you feel about being a student in the department if he were to become chair?
posted by Westringia F. at 5:33 PM on December 31, 2014 [71 favorites]


Hildegarde: "This whole conversation came about because a female student was sexually harassed by someone Aaronson and his fans admire, and Aaronson took to his blog to bemoan the fact that his employer had opted not to publish the work of the aggressor"

It's kind of a shame the discussion went the way it did because I think the instigating event for that blog post (i.e.: MIT pulling Lewin's online course videos in the wake of a sexual harassment finding) actually does raise a bunch of interesting issues: the perennial question of separating the art from the artist (or, in this case, science teaching from science teacher), what happens to course materials produced for an online course if the course is withdrawn, what kind of sanctions (particularly in the online realm) can/should a university impose on a professor, etc... A few comments on Scott Aaronson's blog try to get at these topics sensibly but it very quickly devolves into the typical dumpster fire of most internet comments sections. And, all of that before we even get to Scott's comment #171.
posted by mhum at 5:39 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


the perennial question of separating the art from the artist (or, in this case, science teaching from science teacher),

This is a bizarre analogy. No one is saying that Lewin's scientific work is wrong because he has sexually harassed female students.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:45 PM on December 31, 2014


No one here who has reconsidered, for example, how feminism is being presented to young men, as a result of reading what he's written?

I think anyone who's spent at least ten minutes as a feminist is intimately familiar with the aged cry of "Feminism means I can't get laid" emerging from the lips of the sad beta male. This really, sadly, is not new data.
posted by corb at 5:48 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


> "Why care so much about the ramblings of a guy whose contributions are no more valuable than those of the Time Cube guy?"

In my case, it is because while Aaronson's social anxiety and internal reaction to it was an extreme example, a culture of belief that "my problems mean I am a member of an oppressed class, and if I am a member of an oppressed class it means I cannot possibly be an oppressor" is a surprisingly common one among many men in STEM fields and other traditionally "nerdy" environments, even among men who are by most reasonable metrics well-off and successful. What's more, the particulars of Aaronson's formulation of it is a depressingly frequent one -- namely, that an imagined form of "feminism" is responsible for their woes, and that men in STEM et al do not and cannot bear any of the responsibility for the relative lack of women in those environments. This is a toxic concept which has been making its presence felt more and more in recent years, in everything from gamergate to the many "yes, speak truth to power!" comments on Aaronson's blog. In short, Aaronson is not speaking alone in a vacuum. There are many people listening to what he is saying and agreeing.
posted by kyrademon at 5:53 PM on December 31, 2014 [12 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest: "This is a bizarre analogy. No one is saying that Lewin's scientific work is wrong because he has sexually harassed female students."

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that. I was more thinking along the lines of what should we do/think about, say, Roman Polanski's films or R. Kelly's music. These are two men who have (as far as I can tell) done some reprehensible things and yet have also produced some fine work. When a movie theater screens "Chinatown" or a radio station airs "Ignition (Remix)", does that carry an implicit endorsement of the person who created the work? As an audience member, can I watch/listen to these works without feeling like a dirtbag?
posted by mhum at 6:00 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


emerging from the lips of the sad beta male.

Sad beta male? That's some TRP shit right there (or possibly Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom).
posted by MikeMc at 6:07 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'll be the first to admit that realizing how little I truly knew was the big step towards actually understanding.

No, that was Socrates.
posted by uosuaq at 6:12 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]


Deoridhe: Refusing to interact with girls out of fear is not treating girls as people, it's treating girls as members of a group that inspire fear.

It is not intentionally treating girls as members of a group that inspire fear. It is being subject to an irrational fear due to mental illness, lousy experiences, etc. Plenty of people have fears that are not rational and that they don't have control over. You act as if these boys intentionally decided they were going to experience this debilitating fear and treat girls poorly. They didn't. Intent matters. They want to treat girls well, but they don't know how. Because they are kids. It is the responsibility of adults to teach them how.

You pay attention to their signals, believe what they say, and if they prove to be untrustworthy you move on.

Yes, but this is not something that all kids automatically know how to do. Some kids have to be taught this.

If girls are people, being rejected by a girl should hurt no more than being rejected by a boy; not all boys want to be your friend, either.

Many boys with poor socialization skills also regularly fail at interacting with other boys. It just has slightly lower emotional stakes for straight boys, because other boys are not potential love interests for them. And giving a lot of emotional weight to reactions from crushes is not unique to boys (or straight people) either. Almost all kids get hurt when someone they have a crush on rejects them. Being people (for both girls and boys) does not mean that it's impossible for another kid to have a crush on them.

---------------
PMdixon: O RLY?

I misunderstood what you were arguing against. It's a fast moving thread, and there's like half a dozen separate conversations happening on this page. My bad.

My objective here was to point out that calling mental illness an "excuse" for failing in various areas of life is some commonly encountered discriminatory bullshit, which I expect you know already if you have a mental illness yourself. I don't agree with SA's ridiculous claims of nerdy men being the most underprivileged.

---------------
divined by radio: I love that you felt the need to say this -- feminists are not a monolithic entity. We don't even agree with each other 95% of the time.

If I didn't say it, you know there would be people interpreting my words as the work of some bad-faith-arguing psycho woman-hater. Frankly, I hate that all these disclaimers are necessary, because they make the conversation much slower. And I'm well aware that feminists are not a monolithic entity, that's why taking part in these conversations is such a drag. No matter what is said, it will almost certainly be misinterpreted by someone. And you seem to be saying that the fact that I included that disclaimer means that you now think I'm arguing in bad faith, although maybe I'm wrong about that. I hope the fact that I care enough about good-faith arguing to try and untangle this knot tells you something about my position here. For clarity, I did not mean that I agree with all feminists 95% of the time, I meant that I agree with about 95% of the things said by self-proclaimed feminists, now, in 2014. There are probably some individual feminists I agree with 100%, and some I agree with 0%.

My point is that going forward it would be good if we could give kids (boys and girls) as much help as possible becoming socially well-adjusted. Kids should be encouraged to talk to therapists when they are having difficulty. For the people who are already adults, yes, figuring out our own problems was the best option we had available. But we can do better for the future.

There are several different conversations happening on this page, so let me try to clarify: I do not agree with any of SA's "nerdy white guys have it the worst" bullshit. I do not think shyness and awkwardness are inherently male traits. But I do think that childhood mental issues and shyness is not understood by a lot of people. That is what I am speaking to.

You're not talking about nerdy shy kids, you're talking about nerdy shy boys. You're taking an experience the author notes as explicitly gendered and talking about it as though it's some kind of universal touchstone. There are millions of shy, nerdy, awkward girls and women, but not too many of us are writing essays about how resentful we are that men aren't served up to us on a silver platter like they used to be. I wonder why that is...

Actually, I'm talking about my own personal experiences, not anything SA wrote. I'm giving you a perspective that relates to being a boy because that's my experience. And I am generalizing it to all kids because I actually have read personal stories from women who were nerdy girls and dealt with it poorly, like the following by Christina H: 5 Confessions of a Female 'Nice Guy'. In that article, she describes being resentful when she was younger about not being able to get the guys she wanted.

Boys who don't know how to treat girls well do not, as you insist, believe that women are people.

You're talking about a group and I'm talking about myself when I was a kid, so I'm trying not to take this personally. But this is my lived experience we're talking about here (although you're framing it a little differently, as "boys who don't treat girls well but do treat boys well", which doesn't describe me exactly). But this sentence implies that you believe you know my experience better than I do. You don't really mean that, do you?

I suppose I am a little unusual. I was brought up to believe in equality and nonviolence from my earliest memories. I was widely acknowledged to be the smartest and the shyest kid in all my classes. I enjoyed nothing more than reading and learning new things. I remember what I thought as a kid: I absolutely did not think girls were any less for being girls. Maybe that was unusual too, I don't know. No, I'm not asking for a medal, I'm just telling you what life was like for my specific type of oddball.

You are making assumptions that I knew how to get along with boys perfectly well. In fact, I failed at socializing with most boys too. But it was harder to socialize with girls because I cared what they thought more, and my anxiety spiked whenever I tried it.

Because you don't see them struggling so mightily with treating other boys well, do you? No.

Speaking from my personal experience, yes, I had troubles relating to almost everyone, boys and girls. Not because I wasn't treating them well though, but because most kids didn't want an ugly nerd talking to them. Although this conversation is making me remember that I had some nice talking interactions with classmates who were girls about classwork and things like that. That doesn't change that I was still ridiculously nervous talking to most girls though.

Most of them know not to touch other boys, not to ask them uncomfortable questions, not to follow them around or stare at them or write creepy stories about them. They only forget the basic rules of the game of life when it comes to girls.

Again, speaking for myself only, I didn't do that stuff to anyone, boy or girl. My social failures were due to being a quiet, shy, ugly, poor, depressed nerd, not being a creepy touchy person.

---------------
j.r: I agree strongly with everyone calling BS on the line of thinking that goes, "I totally know that girls/women are people; I just have no idea how to talk to them!" Well, talk to them like...people.

Yes, I worked that out as a young adult. I wish someone had explained that to me when I was 8 years old, and also explained the basics of how to talk to all people at the same time.
posted by the big lizard at 6:13 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm giving you a perspective that relates to being a boy because that's my experience. And I am generalizing it to all kids because I actually have read personal stories from women who were nerdy girls and dealt with it poorly, like the following by Christina H

Your generalizing it to all kids is flat out a wrong thing to do. This is an almost exclusively male issue, of feeling entitled to sex and resentful when not getting it (and blaming feminism for it).
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:48 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was given a crystal clear reassurance that my intelligence, diligence, and tenacity SHOULD be enough, that I was not expected to tolerate creepiness or to fill others' emotional voids,

This makes me want to stand up and cheer and stomp my feet and clap and everything. And I'm kind of annoyed that I feel that! It shouldn't be WOO HOO!!!-worthy that your adviser had to make it explicit (to you, to grabbyprof or anyone else) that you are not there to help someone feel less lonely or more attractive, and that you are valued for your intellect. But I'm still really glad that your advisers and mentors had your back in this very important way. Gives me hope.
posted by rtha at 7:07 PM on December 31, 2014 [11 favorites]


I wish someone had explained that to me when I was 8 years old, and also explained the basics of how to talk to all people at the same time.

Hey, I think the schools should be doing some version of CBT along with gym. Emotional regulation is hard. We should help people be better at it. No argument here.
posted by PMdixon at 7:23 PM on December 31, 2014 [6 favorites]


Laurie Penny has done exactly this, and been commended for it by pretty much everyone. He has responded....Has the way he has responded to her made you think that She Just Did It Wrong and Needs to Try Again? And Again? Her writing to him was pretty much the ideal, and he has responded to it in ways that do not make me think he has actually thought much about it, but instead is intent on picking it apart so that he is not the one who's wrong. What do you think of his response to her? Do you think it's on the right track, or is there advice you would give to him about thinking and not picking?

Thanks for engaging with me, rtha. In answer to your questions, I have read pretty much all of the comments on SA's blog, including the ones before number 171 (the comment Laurie Penny responded to in her blog post), and of course Penney's response to him. I already mentioned upthread that I felt she did a nice job of empathizing with him before chastising him about his privilege, which I am more meh about. [This is not because I disagree with the concept of privilege entirely but because I feel like often privilege is used as an excuse to criticize people--once you have declared someone is more privileged than you, you can claim to be "punching up" and, from what I have witnessed, people have used this argument to justify being really nasty. And I don't like that justification, because I am more a believer in intersectionality and that everyone is fighting their own battles.]

So, anyway, what I have noticed in the comments are that men AND a women are posting questions, criticisms and observations to SA, and he is responding to many of them. Perhaps the most prolific commenter on the blog is Amy, and it is in response to her that SA originally wrote #171. That right there gave me an initial good impression of SA, because some bloggers just delete or don't respond to critical comments, which is their right, but that makes for a very one-dimensional conversation, and he spent a good deal of time and energy replying to criticism, and even specifically to criticism from a woman.

I get that many did not have that positive initial reaction, and feel defensive about what SA said right from the get-go because in sharing his personal experience he was quite critical of some concepts, like privilege, and some of the more extreme feminist teachings, which he says led to a great deal of shame and anxiety and self-loathing on his part.

Reading that didn't make me feel defensive. I am not Andrea Dworkin and I think it is okay to criticize extremism and argue for a less divisive platform; in fact, I think a lot of feminists do think Andrea Dworkin was pretty extreme and some have said so in this thread, even. So I felt he was doing just what he claimed to be doing, which is explaining why he felt that he could only embrace 97% of feminism as it exists today, and I didn't find that nearly so...infuriating or disgusting as apparently a lot of people did.

I don't think Laura Penny's attempt to reach out to him was wrong at all, no! Basically she told him--in a nice, empathetic way!--that she understood how he felt, which he responded well to. And Penny also points out that geeky girls had a tough time, which is good, I think, for him to remember, without saying geeky girls had it worse and dismissing his lived experience (though others did afterward, especially in this thread).

I don't think his initial responses to Amy, or to Penny were wrong, either, though. He has responded, as near as I can see, sincerely to several people and made several very good points and I don't agree with him on everything, but I don't feel he is a misogynistic asshole, either, and I think he was disagreeing but I didn't see him picking apart what Laurie Penney wrote at all.

The only time I felt SA came across badly was in his final update, where he gets a little sarcastic about privilege and the Patriarchy. I felt he could have done better there, since you ask, and refrained from being sarcastic.

I am assuming you read all of those other responses of his, too, though, and followed the whole conversation, so you know that when he made that last update he had already been thoroughly raked across the coals by people in Twitter, in emails, and other blogs than Penny's, right?

If not, I urge you, and everyone in this thread, to read more before passing judgment. One of those blog posts was linked upthread, I think.

To anyone else in this thread who has only been selectively reading, I can understand why you might be frustrated, just as I understand that SA was getting frustrated in that last update.

You probably feel like he is just wrong, and not being persuaded to your point of view, or humbled, nor admitted he was wrong, and that's frustrating when you disagree with someone. And in that final update, he even seems flippant!

Well, HE probably feels like his words have been twisted and taken in bad faith. He has earnestly shared a very personal story and repeatedly engaged, time and again, with his commenters, in good faith, and been called a misogynist and an apologist for sexual harassment and told he just wants his wife to be chattel for his trouble --none of which is true--on his own blog. And he certainly hasn't fared any better in this thread.

So, yep, he got flippant, he sure did, because, just as so many feminists on Metafilter have said in threads like this one, he is tired of trying to explain to people who refuse to get it.
posted by misha at 7:55 PM on December 31, 2014 [5 favorites]


Another thing that my brain gears turned on, in response to the people saying "they just need to interact with women the way they interact with men, because women are people".

I think you're missing the point that the way these types of guys interact with men is totally fucked up.


I would word that differently, but that was my first thought was well. "Treat the women just like you treat the men" fails as advice because these guys know that their interactions with other men are deeply flawed.

he is tired of trying to explain to people who refuse to get it.

I'm sorry but this is bogus. Other people who are far more patient than I am have explained why repeatedly, so another repetition isn't going to help at this point, but while this may be how he feels (since he clearly doesn't get it at all) it is not an accurate depiction of reality.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:02 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


Why does Aaronson get a pass for getting "flippant" after a single difficult conversation wherein his points fail to hit the mark he hopes they will when the women posting in this thread, and in others, are immediately criticized for not being empathetic enough towards Aaronson after having thousands of these conversations in every avenue of our lives and finding men like Aaronson constantly and willfully forcing us to start from zero over and over and over again?
posted by Hildegarde at 8:10 PM on December 31, 2014 [16 favorites]


I think I criticized someone in this thread for comparing Aaronson to a serial killer. That seems unfair to you?
posted by misha at 8:20 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


he is tired of trying to explain to people who refuse to get it.

Well, you know what? So are we. Part of the reason that a lot of us have little patience for Aaronson is because we've been over this same road - again and again and again. The other part is because a lot of us went through the same sort of things that he went through, and yet we didn't find ourselves blaming a gross mischaracterization of feminism for our own failings.

So you'll pardon me if I think it's a tad unfair that you demand that we show understanding to him, while giving him a pass on his repeated refusal to understand us, as shown with his most recent dismissal (which you dismiss by calling it "sarcastic" and "flippant".)
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:24 PM on December 31, 2014 [9 favorites]


I haven't demanded anything, or said you shouldn't be impatient or exhausted or whatever. I can empathize with you AND with Aaronson. I think he was honest, I think Penny was honest, I think they disagree and I still like them both just fine. That is how I try to be as fair as possible, by accepting people mean what they say.

You do what works for you. That's okay, too.
posted by misha at 8:38 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest: I see the 'feels entitled to sex' accusation thrown around a lot. I'm sure there are people who it does apply to. But please consider that it's an extremely ugly claim to make of someone who has given no indication whatsoever that that's how they see things.
posted by Anything at 9:06 PM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm sure there are people who it does apply to. But please consider that it's an extremely ugly claim to make of someone who has given no indication whatsoever that that's how they see things.

MisantropicPainforest wasn't even singling out anyone in particular in the comment you're responding to, though.

And "feels entitled to sex" isn't code for rape or sexual misconduct; it can simply mean feeling aggrieved about people you see as inferior in some way still "getting" to be sexually active. It's certainly problematic -- it's a worldview that casts sex as something you earn through good behavior as opposed to something that happens between two people with agency. But I really don't get how pointing that out is an "ugly" accusation.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:54 PM on December 31, 2014 [7 favorites]


charred husk: Yeah, we don't know how to do that either. Hell, I'm 41 now and if we ever moved I'd have to rely on my wife for making new friends.

Captain Awkward has a lot of good posts about learning how to make friends; it's a common problem for men and women. Most therapists would be happy to help you with breaking down the steps if the posts aren't helpful enough, and can refer to a psychiatrist if your anxiety issues in novel situations are beyond the reach of just therapy. I actually recommend checking out the entire history of Captain Awkward and the Awkwardeers, but below are some links specifically about the messy issues around friendships.

Guess I'll GO Eat Worms: Loneliness Link and Open Thread

I have a hard enough time making friends for myself. How do I navigate the special hell that is arranging playdates for my children?

MOAR crowdsourcing: Meeting new people in a rural area?

Does having my awesome career mean I have to lose all of my relationships?

How do I make and keep friends?

Relying on your wife for supplying friends for you does both of you a disservice; it sets her up as your social manager, which is an unpaid job that is commonly and unfairly expected of women in relationships, and it limits your ability to have friends independent of your relationship with her, which is important so that you both have a diversity of emotional and supportive connections. Luckily, it's a pretty easy thing to fix and there's a lot of information about how to do so.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:19 PM on December 31, 2014 [19 favorites]


the big lizard: Plenty of people have fears that are not rational and that they don't have control over. You act as if these boys intentionally decided they were going to experience this debilitating fear and treat girls poorly. They didn't. Intent matters.

No, I'm saying that by definition, if one has an irrational fear aimed at an entire class of people, then one is not treating any individual member of that class like they are a person - they are treating them like an interchangeable member of a class.

My point was and remains you can't BOTH claim that boys are seeing girls as people AND claim that boys are afraid (however rationally or irrationally) of girls. One or the other - not both.

It's also inconsistent to claim one is respecting girls as people and simultaneously expect girls to somehow protect boys from their own fears and feelings of inadequacy - those feelings are internal to boys, not something girls have any power over. Sexism dictates that women should be able to "nice" or "wear the right clothes" or "firm boundary" boys into appropriate behavior and emotional health, but it is a lie; boys have to find their own emotional health, manage their own feelings, and control their own behavior.

It just has slightly lower emotional stakes for straight boys, because other boys are not potential love interests for them.

Assuming the girl/woman of a boy/man's choice is a priori a potential love interest is putting the cart several leagues before the horse. It's also part of the problem.

Treating all girls or women as potential love interests is part of not treating us as people; it's part of treating us as gatekeepers for love/sex which are available given the thoughts and desires of the man/boy in the room. That is, it is treating girls/women as objects, not as people.

I honestly believe a lot of people - even women - don't notice when we treat women as objects because doing so is incredibly typical and common. Women even objectify ourselves. I found Martha Nussbaum's seven notions of objectification very useful in spotting when I and others are accidentally engaged in objectifying ourselves or others [source, h/t Sarkeesian]:
Instrumentality: The objectifier treats the object as a tool of his or her purposes.

Denial of autonomy: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in autonomy and self-determination.

Inertness: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in agency, and perhaps also in activity.

Fungibility: The objectifier treats the object as interchangeable (a) with other objects of the same type, and/or (b) with objects of other types.

Violability: The objectifier treats the object as lacking in boundary-integrity, as something that is is permissible to break up, smash, break into.

Ownership: The objectifier treats the object as something that is owned by another, can be bought or sold, etc...

Denial of subjectivity: The objectifier treats the object as something whose experience and feelings (if any) need not be taken into account.
Fungibility would be the means of objectification above - treating girls as interchangeable with each other as an object of fear and/or interchangeable with "potential love interest" because their availability is inaccurately assumed.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:03 PM on December 31, 2014 [33 favorites]


Intent matters.

This is only true if the subject of the intent doesn't count or doesn't matter or doesn't have feelings. And we know that this is very rarely the case. Intent is not a thing that trumps all - it can't be. If you (general you) insist that it is the only thing that matters, then you must concede that the effects of that intent don't matter, at all, ever.

Intent has weight. It doesn't outweigh everything.
posted by rtha at 11:29 PM on December 31, 2014 [9 favorites]


misha: I don't think anyone is claiming Aaronson didn't mean what he said. Many are claiming that what he said was reprehensible, or at the very least, problematic. In fact, many here have praised him for his honesty and openness, if not for the beliefs he's being honest about. Surely you can understand that distinction?
posted by thegears at 5:57 AM on January 1, 2015


Assuming the girl/woman of a boy/man's choice is a priori a potential love interest is putting the cart several leagues before the horse. It's also part of the problem.

Treating all girls or women as potential love interests is part of not treating us as people; it's part of treating us as gatekeepers for love/sex which are available given the thoughts and desires of the man/boy in the room. That is, it is treating girls/women as objects, not as people.


Yeah, that's one of the things that always confuses me in discussions of this sort. I'm a hetero female, and not even in my most hormone-soaked teenage years did I view every new age-appropriate boy or man I met as a potential love interest (or even the majority of them).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:55 AM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


We put pressure on boys to be the ones to take the first move. On the one hand, I would have been very happy to have to only evaluate the girls that explicitly came up to me and expressed interest. Then I would have been terrified and annoyed by how many of them I had to reject because I wasn't in to them because that is ridiculously scary too. There are some grass is greener issues on both sides of that toxic dynamic. Kids are very sensitive, and the best way to smooth this stuff over is to teach them ways to approach each other that prioritize protecting each other's feelings and being open and honest. I don't really know how that can be taught, even adults don't master it, but it's something we should be working on.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:12 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


And now: I never meant to minimize the suffering of other people, nor to deny that many others have had things as bad or worse than I did (again, how does one even compare?). (x)

How does one even compare, Scott? How does one? You've been doing it from the start, repeatedly making yourself the winner of the pain olympics. Is this your latest concession, framed as if you didn't repeatedly underline that you have it worse than women, people of colour, gays, anyone? How do you claim that you never meant to do a thing you demonstrably did and then repeatedly defended doing? If you're going to withdraw the contention because it's fucking stupid, do it without blaming us for our supposed "wild, “postmodernist” misreadings of a blog comment, which twisted what I said (and meant) into its exact opposite, building up a fake-Scott-Aaronson onto whom the ax-grinders could project all of their own bogeymen." It's not our fault that you said some stupid shit and got called on it, dude.

I would absolutely have traded places with any of the people you mentioned—the poor black kid, the gay kid, any of them. I wouldn’t even have to think about it. Are you kidding me?

I believe that “the problem of the nerdy heterosexual male” is surely one of the worst social problems today...I also think there are crucial differences between the two cases—at least in the world as it currently exists—which might make the shy-nerdy-male problem vastly harder to solve than the shy-nerdy-female one.

How does one compare, Scott? What a crazy thing to suggest that you did! What a wild misreading! Silly us!
posted by Hildegarde at 8:15 AM on January 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm a hetero female, and not even in my most hormone-soaked teenage years did I view every new age-appropriate boy or man I met as a potential love interest (or even the majority of them).

This might be something that is both culturally and personally dependent. Look at the start of Pride and Prejudice, which pokes fun at the "universally acknowledged truth" that all single men are not only potential husbands, but that they can be assigned to some particular unmarried woman. In SA's case it might have been better if he'd viewed women as potential love interests; it would surely have been better than (what I understand to have been) his habit of hanging around in an angsty way and resenting women, because he was too scared or scrupulous to actually approach them.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:55 AM on January 1, 2015


In SA's case it might have been better if he'd viewed women as potential love interests; it would surely have been better than (what I understand to have been) his habit of hanging around in an angsty way and resenting women, because he was too scared or scrupulous to actually approach them.

Ah, I took a different reading - it seemed to me that he viewed all women as potential love interests, and therefore any interaction with any of them would be fraught with potential danger and embarrassment.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:15 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think we mean the same thing - when I said "it might have been better if he'd viewed women as potential love interests" I meant that it might have been better if he had thought himself capable of approaching them. Instead he seems to have been all "Argh argh dworkin's head, people would flee from my brutish advances which ought to be unwelcome in any event".

But I'm not at all sure I understand him, and the more he says the less confident I am.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:34 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Chris Hallquist noted that Penny (and I think, some people here) are pretty quick to leap to blaming Dworkin, but in fact Aaronsen says he read the work of a variety of feminists but found nothing to reassure him that there was a way to approach women which wasn't problematic. (This is odd as I can certainly think of some people blogging under the sex-positive banner, but we're not told quite when this was: if the guy's a professor now and is writing about his undergraduate years, maybe that stuff was harder to find.)

Hallquist's other point is that Aaronsen was writing a comment in response to Amy's assertion that harassment is especially bad in STEM fields (and effectively saying "what, no, in my experience STEM men are all so terrified by the idea they might harass someone that they barely have the courage to approach women"), but Penny treats it as a sort of free standing blog post on the state of male nerdery.
posted by pw201 at 9:53 AM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't know why any teenaged boy would think that feminist literature is there to reassure him, and why as an adult he thinks it's justified to criticize it for not doing so. I wonder if astronomers are often taken to task for causing anxiety in teenagers because their literature predicts the eventual destruction of our solar system. If feminist scholarship should be there to help teenaged boys learn how to hook up with women, maybe astronomy research should focus on how we can get better tans.

Also, I can't believe anyone is calling Amy's comments on the original blog post "obnoxious" when she's so calm, gentle, and patient throughout. It's doubly hilarious that Aaronson would comment that men in STEM fields wouldn't harass women because they don't have the courage to do so on a post that he wrote about a sexual harassment case in the physics department.
posted by Hildegarde at 11:19 AM on January 1, 2015 [22 favorites]


his habit of hanging around in an angsty way and resenting women, because he was too scared or scrupulous to actually approach them.

This is treating every woman like a potential love interest. So is putting the cart before the horse and lamenting that men have to approach all of these interchangeable women because they are all, of course, potential love interests. No where in any of these laments to how hard it is to approach women because they are potential love interests is it acknowledged that they are people, and so thus might not actually be available.

And yes, part of the problem with the initial quote of Pride and Prejudice skewering that society is that the young men are objectified tools for access to money. One of the underpinnings of the book is objectification, though it focuses more on how, for example, Mr Collins objectifies Lizzy and Charlotte by not acknowledging the former is unavailable even when she outright says it, and exchanging her for the latter within three days. Denial of subjectivity and fungibility, all in plot point.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:05 PM on January 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hallquist's other point is that Aaronsen was writing a comment in response to Amy's assertion that harassment is especially bad in STEM fields (and effectively saying "what, no, in my experience STEM men are all so terrified by the idea they might harass someone that they barely have the courage to approach women"), but Penny treats it as a sort of free standing blog post on the state of male nerdery.

Because this is a reoccurring argument used to deny the existence of harassment of women in all sorts of "nerdy" spheres, not just STEM.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:28 PM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Assuming people can't harass women if they don't have the confidence to approach them is pretty wrong, I think. Harassment is often a show of power, and thinking of it only in terms of "what if I do it accidentally" and not in terms of harassers as people on the spectrum of sexual abusers who know what they're doing and how to get away with it and whose presence is explicitly harmful to women is a classic failure to empathize with women, and continuing to do so with regular derailments of "but how do I get laid 😢😟" so the focus is on neither dealing with harassers or supporting women but on the self-centered nerd boys who think their fear of women overrides the explicit, institutional harm done by patriarchy is, well, really shitty.
posted by NoraReed at 1:02 PM on January 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Chris Hallquist noted that Penny (and I think, some people here) are pretty quick to leap to blaming Dworkin, but in fact Aaronsen says he read the work of a variety of feminists but found nothing to reassure him that there was a way to approach women which wasn't problematic. (This is odd as I can certainly think of some people blogging under the sex-positive banner, but we're not told quite when this was: if the guy's a professor now and is writing about his undergraduate years, maybe that stuff was harder to find.)

Except, as Hallquist himself notes, Aaronson points out Dworkin as being his favorite. And again, its telling that he gravitates to her, because she has a very questionable view of sex and sexuality, which was recognized even in the early to mid 90s. Besides, just because Aaronson read widely doesn't mean that he grappled with the material honestly.

As for the rest of Hallquist's piece, he deserves some kicking for this bit:

This is infuriating, because it’s not even criticizing Aaronson for what he said, but what he failed to say. But if you’re going to play that game, you can *always* find something you think someone should have talked about in any piece of writing of finite length. It’s an example of a toxic dynamic that shows up a lot in social justice internets–people talk as if your feelings only matter if you’re the most oppressed person in any given conversation.

No, the point is that pain does not equal absolution. Just because you suffer doesn't mean that you are placed past scrutiny. And that doesn't mean that your feelings don't matter - it means that you shouldn't expect people to not point out that the source of them is you.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:14 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


emptythought: And really, just auto find and replace in your brain every time you start reading the "i don't know how to talk to women it's all the wrong thing" type stuff with "i want to be able to be terrible with women and have them be ok with it".

No. Just no.

Do you really think putting words like this into people's mouths is OK? Can you point out one piece of Aaronson's writing that actually espouses the kind of views you're talking about? If you could then you would have linked to it, but you can't so it's insinuation and poisonous invective instead.

I for one don't believe that is an acceptable way to discuss someone's beliefs, whatever they may be.
posted by pharm at 2:24 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


pharm, how else are we to understand his desire to have lived in a shtetl where he would be assigned a wife who would accept him in spite of any inability to talk to women? That is, I think, the very definition of "i want to be able to be terrible with women and have them be ok with it".
posted by Hildegarde at 2:30 PM on January 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Do you really think putting words like this into people's mouths is OK? Can you point out one piece of Aaronson's writing that actually espouses the kind of views you're talking about?

Well, we've been doing that since the second post in this thread. Here's the quote from him there:

(sigh) Here’s the thing: I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. 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.

(Emphasis mine.)

So no, we're not putting words in his mouth.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:32 PM on January 1, 2015


Yes you are. You can't even see it apparently, but you are.

You're taking the expressions of the angst and self-loathing of someone with an anxiety problem that surely reaches the level of mental illness & projecting the worst kind of r/mensrights bullshit on it. That's an incredibly distorted reading & the fact that you can't see that makes me doubt everything you write frankly.
posted by pharm at 2:40 PM on January 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hildegarde: pharm, how else are we to understand his desire to have lived in a shtetl where he would be assigned a wife who would accept him in spite of any inability to talk to women? That is, I think, the very definition of "i want to be able to be terrible with women and have them be ok with it".

Can you find the writing that actually argues that women should suffer to such an environment in order to make him happy? Again, I'd expect that of the worst parts of reddit, but nothing Aaronson has ever written has suggested that the stetl thing is anything other than miopic wish-fulfillment.

Some of the people in this thread appear to be determined to find the worst possible reading of Aaronson's writing & if that isn't bad enough, then they posit far worse things that they just know that he's "really thinking". I don't see how that helps anybody personally.
posted by pharm at 2:55 PM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Can you find the writing that actually argues that women should suffer to such an environment in order to make him happy?

While I wouldn't say the shtetl was the most flagrant example of an oppressive system for women -- they could, for example, refuse a match -- it is nonetheless an inherently patriarchic institution, where women were expected to act as servants to their husbands and given exceptionally little institutional power. He does not need to argue that women should have to suffer when he expresses a longing for time in which they would suffer.

In fact, his unconcern for the realities of women in the shtetl, his obliviousness to it, is a mark of his privilege, and a mark that the experience of women have not been factoring into his equation.
posted by maxsparber at 3:21 PM on January 1, 2015 [14 favorites]


nothing Aaronson has ever written has suggested that the stetl thing is anything other than miopic wish-fulfillment.

That myopic wish fulfillment fantasy explicitly excludes the experience of the women who, in his fantasy, would also be subjected to it. Like the fantasies of saving the kingdom and getting the princess, it turns people into objects and then presents that as a desirable thing to the only person in the room, who happens to be Aaronson.

His fantasy contains for the woman involved: denial of autonomy, denial of subjectivity, inertness, ownership, and - if the desired product the woman is supposed to supply is sex/children - instrumentality. Given he also didn't fantasize about a specific woman, but rather having a woman assigned to him by the stetl, fungibility could also be argued.

Of course he's married, and presumably now he would rather not trade her in for another model nor does he deny she is a person - so the fantasy is no longer viable - but he is holding it up as an example of how hard growing up was for him without ever acknowledging (and, I suspect, even recognizing) that his pain led him objectify women and want be given a one as property.

Woman-as-prize/gift is a really common narrative trope, so common most people - men and women - have no idea it depends upon objectifying the woman involved. Hel, I fantasized about being the princess before I realized no one who bought into women-as-prizes wants me. Now I fantasize about saving people and facing up to evil, driving it from the world with my ability to solve puzzles and prove my enemies wrong!! ...which involves reuniting them with loved ones a lot more than I expected.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:32 PM on January 1, 2015 [13 favorites]


Of course it is/was. The point is whether he's arguing that women ought to be subjugated to his him now at the expense of their own rights in order to make him happy, or whether that he believes he personally would have been happier in that environment with it's strict & clearer rules for social engagement without wanting to take the whole of society back to that place. The former is misogynistic bullshit whilst the latter is self-centred wish fulfillment. Personally I think Aaronson believes the latter, but there appear to be plenty of people here who are convinced he's guilty of the former.
posted by pharm at 3:35 PM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


The former is misogynistic bullshit whilst the latter is self-centred wish fulfillment.

I don't see a bright shining line between the two. In fact, both seem to support each other.
posted by maxsparber at 3:38 PM on January 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


I might wish for all sorts of things - It doesn't mean that in the real world I'd inflict those wishes on the people around me.
posted by pharm at 3:46 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, sure, but when you express them in public, people might point out that it demonstrates something about your worldview that you had not realized.
posted by maxsparber at 4:06 PM on January 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


If we're talking fantasy tropes ...

Will anyone else here 'fess up to having read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant? I read them as a kid - I read everything - and I feel that if Scott Aaronson resembles any literary figure, it's Thomas Covenant:1 he has the same self-loathing, the same distrust of his perceptions, and the same tendency to treat those around him as being less than real.

1 James Nicoll described him as "the most unlikable supposedly sympathetic protagonist in a book ... Thomas Covenant wins this sort of thing hands down so he gets his own special lifetime achievement award ..."
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:19 PM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Of course he's married, and presumably now he would rather not trade her in for another model nor does he deny she is a person

In a lot of heterosexual relationships this is by no means a given.
posted by winna at 4:56 PM on January 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Scott Alexander (not Scott Aaronson) (previously on MeFi) has written a long but in-depth reply to Laurie Penny's article. For the commenters here calling Aaronson "entitled," a "fucking child," "pathological," and who think that Penny's response was "incisive and compassionate" and not simply less bad than many others, I definitely recommend it.
posted by Rangi at 5:07 PM on January 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


I only made it ten paragraphs in before the overwhelming volume of the violins playing songs of grief for Aaronson's terrible plight in being beseiged by mean ladies became too great to bear.
posted by winna at 5:10 PM on January 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


I live in a world where feminists throwing weaponized shame at nerds is an obvious and inescapable part of daily life. Whether we’re “mouth-breathers”, “pimpled”, “scrawny”, “blubbery”, “sperglord”, “neckbeard”, “virgins”, “living in our parents’ basements”, “man-children” or whatever the insult du jour is, it’s always, always, ALWAYS a self-identified feminist saying it. Sometimes they say it obliquely, referring to a subgroup like “bronies” or “atheists” or “fedoras” while making sure everyone else in nerddom knows it’s about them too.

I mean seriously SO MANY FEELS FOR THE MEN BEING HURT BY MEAN LADIES.

SORRY FOR CAPSLOCK I'M SHOUTING OVER THE VIOLINS.
posted by winna at 5:11 PM on January 1, 2015 [21 favorites]


In my heart, there is a little counter that reads “XXX days without a ten-thousand word rant about feminists.” And I had just broken three digits when
Now this is the guy I wanna hear from!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:37 PM on January 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


Oops, I accidentally included three neo-Nazi caricatures of Jews in there. You did notice, right?
Scott "The Analogy Guy" Alexander with the slam dunk yet again
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:46 PM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Rustic Etruscan: that analogy (nerds to Jews, though I guess not feminists to Nazis) was already made, much less clumsily, by tempythethird upthread.
posted by j.r at 5:50 PM on January 1, 2015


That's true, j.r, and I'm not a fan of either analogy, but Scott Alexander's writing has a marked tendency toward clumsy comparisons and false equivalences, and this piece is no exception.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:28 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The claims in the bit winna quoted are also also obviously counterfactual. The last time I saw someone insult someone else with the living-in-their-parents'-basement line was about an hour ago in a World of Warcraft chat channel, and oh boy were neither of the dudes involved feminist.

Men, including explicitly antifeminist men, shame each other with this stuff all the time, and being on the receiving end of it is a major feature of being a young male nerd. Your stereotypical square-jawed, locker-shoving, quarterback-on-the-football-team bully is not weaponizing shame against young male nerds out of deep feminist conviction. Hey bro I just read this sick Judith Butler, let's go give the chess team swirlies and tell them they have small dicks. I mean, come on.

This pattern happens over and over: in one area of their lives, these guys are super into science and evidence and reason, and they are often very, very good at it. But when it comes to anything that touches their identity, evidence and facts and careful argumentation fly out the window. This is a human thing -- it's really hard to take a frank look at criticism regarding our identities without getting emotional, and both our perceptual machinery and thinking machinery are full of flaws that kick into overdrive when we get emotional. It happens to everyone. It happens to me constantly, so it's not like I don't understand and sympathize.

At the same time it's maddening how this makes talking about identity issues so hard. You can have the most immaculate, well-supported argument in the world, with p-values for days, and if it makes young (or formerly young) male nerds uncomfortable, their rationalization machinery kicks in, they drop the word 'postmodern' like it's a magical incantation that falsifies any inconvenient argument, and that's that.

And no matter how much you say something like, "Yes, weaponized shame directed at men for failing to live up to patriarchy's impossible ideal of manhood is awful, and it is the other side of the coin from the weaponized shame directed at women for failing to live up to the impossible notions of what men are taught to want; let us all link arms and sing The Internationale and storm the barricades of the patriarchy together", progress with these guys gets smashed to pieces on the reef of their hurt (which, again, their hurt is important and matters -- it's just not the only thing that matters).

I want progress and I want these guys to be happy and fulfilled, so the more I watch them in their pain putting their often highly trained and intelligent minds to the use of digging the trenches of poisonous, patriarchal though ever deeper, the sadder and more frustrated I get.
posted by amery at 6:51 PM on January 1, 2015 [20 favorites]


Gah, I'd like to apologize for the 'Hey bro' line. I did the thing where I wrote a line in the voice of a jerk, but it contains actual-jerk content (among other things, it relies on chess club being coded male and equates male with 'has penis'). Sorry.
posted by amery at 7:02 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Will anyone else here 'fess up to having read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant?

Yes, but I now feel that entire series should be burned on sight.
posted by corb at 7:48 PM on January 1, 2015


Hey bro I just read this sick Judith Butler, let's go give the chess team swirlies and tell them they have small dicks.

I half wish my high school bullies had been theoretically informed, because instead they were incoherent and inconsistent ("Wait, did I just get called 'fag' again by the same guys who are known to jerk each other off in the showers?") which was confusing and weird. But at the same time, a bit of time reading Discipline and Punish would have taught them how to bully much more effectively, so I'm glad they didn't bother.

Will anyone else here 'fess up to having read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant?

I read it when I was about nine but found him insufferable, which might have been deliberate by the author but didn't work for me.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:53 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Gah, I blogged about this again! This time to take issue (as a mathematician) with Scott's remark:

"Yes, I admit, I do have the moral philosopher’s (or for that matter, the mathematician’s) habit of trying to take stated principles to their logical conclusions, even if many people would regard those conclusions as “irrelevant” or “absurd.” "
posted by escabeche at 8:13 PM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Will anyone else here 'fess up to having read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant?

I got to the point where he raped the girl who helped and saved him because he could and couldn't keep going.
posted by Deoridhe at 8:37 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow. Scott Alexander is a baboon.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:15 PM on January 1, 2015


It was like 25% good stuff and the rest the usual crap. The insistence on blaming the feminist boot for the issues nerds or men in general face is always going to lead to a twisted, impossible to follow explanation. Alexander goes deep down that rabbit hole. But many of the issues are real even if the cause is misidentified. We will never begin to address them until we identify the actual causes.

Amery is exactly right that bullying feminists were not a problem in high school. But Alexander is more focused on present day online discussions. And yes, being bullies is something some feminists do online. They don't have anything close to a monopoly on it, but some do it. It's hurtful, and to those people who do it: Please stop. A lot of people have said it hurts them. Alexander was correct to point out that acknowledging the pain of others does not invalidate your own pain and your own issues.

The caricature comparison to anti-semitic cartoons was actually pretty brilliant, it was when he tried to take that further that he went off the rails on that one, but look: The caricature of nerds some people deploy is so exaggerated and vile that it looks like what a Nazi might think of a Jew. That has to give you some pause if you use them, right?

I don't even know really where to put the blame for the current online culture wars between Feminists and Nerds. Things like gamergate seem more fueled by chan culture than gamer culture as a whole. The behaviors I associate with bullying from the feminist camp seem to mostly come from subsets like SRS which was originally just an offshoot of SA where the stereotypes deployed against nerds were already formed before MRM or feminism had anything to do with it. I don't really think of the goon portion of that crowd as feminists, really, they just like to mock people who post things they disagree with. If it's not men's rights idiots on Reddit, it will be idiots on Conservapedia or Bitcoin forums. It's a snake eating it's tail, there is even a site of mostly banned goons aimed at doing the same thing back at SA that has been doxxing their moderation team. SRS spawned SRSsucks. I understand the desire of folks to use these tactics to fight for social justice beliefs, it can feel good in the moment, but it's a toxic mode of behavior.

Aggressively mocking the appearance, awkwardness, and personal pain of nerds is not going to result in more women in tech. Skip that part of the dialogue whenever you can.

I don't really know what to say though once I say the problem behind the campaign style bullying is probably more chan culture than nerd or gamer culture. (And obviously, it isn't the only problem at hand, but I feel it's what leads to Feminists seeing no room for compromise or compassion with critics. The organized campaigns are often downright terrorism.) They are cockroaches who do what they want. Even 4chan got sick of them but that didn't stop it. Gamergate is coordinated primarily now on a site that also includes child porn boards and that apparently isn't even enough to get the place shut down. As a gamer embarrassed by the whole fucking thing, I don't know what I can do to help. When these campaigns go on, you can't ask someone to just sit back and take it. But I don't know what effective methods can be taken. So, people act out in frustration instead and that's understandable. But I'm frustrated when innocent people get caught in the crossfire of the response too.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:51 PM on January 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Even assuming that the "worst of the worst" behavior between the two tribes were equivalent, the differential in power between them couldn't be more self-evident. Because of this, I have a hard time worrying much about the minimal damage that nasty feminist GIFs are causing compared to the vile shit that the GGers are routinely doing that's hurting people in much more direct ways.

Would I prefer if nobody was treating anyone badly? Of course. Do the nasty cartoons making fun of nerds, even if they provide some kind of cathartic / therapeutic value to the people sharing them, elicit an equal (if not greater) opposite reaction from the GG-ers? Probably. But if you're trying to optimize for the least amount of damage done to human beings, the biggest bang for the buck isn't in stopping feminists from sharing some GIFs that are hostile toward the stereotypical fat white nerdy dude.

With respect to putting a majority of the blame for #GG on chan culture instead of gamer culture, I think that's a tough sell, because it's a continuum rather than two distinct entities, and we simply don't know where on that continuum the bad guys are. It's just too convenient. The seeds of the #GG movement were clearly connected to mainstream gamer culture at the outset, so even if it's evolved into something else now that they'd like to disavow, they're the ones that created the monster and allowed it to escape from the lab.

I just don't see how on one hand, mainstream feminists must be responsible for the nasty caricatures of nerds, but on the other hand, gamer culture can't be held responsible for the nasty #GG stuff. It sounds like plausible deniability for some, miniature American flags for others.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:41 PM on January 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


pharm: You're taking the expressions of the angst and self-loathing of someone with an anxiety problem that surely reaches the level of mental illness & projecting the worst kind of r/mensrights bullshit on it. That's an incredibly distorted reading & the fact that you can't see that makes me doubt everything you write frankly.

I think i've, i guess, wasted more than enough words already on how you can't act like this behavior and these beliefs exist in a vacuum. I covered quite a bit of this above, and further below in this post, but it isn't about point me to the exact words where he admits he's a terrible person. It's pretty much pattern recognition.

I mean, he literally said he wished he was assigned a wife back then. And i mean, it's been covered why that's a fucked up thing in and of itself, but why would he want that? I mean, obviously you're on the side of me being some deranged mouth-words-stuffer, but it's really hard to not read something like that within the context of the rest of what he wrote, and the context of nerdy guys saying stuff like this in general, and not follow on that thought by thinking why he'd want that. Because it's pretty obviously "so that i could get my god given birthright female attention approval and sex just like those dumb jocks were".

His anxiety is a separate issue from the fact that he feels entitled to some standard of attention acknowledgement and time from women. That is not a word stuffing, it's the logical conclusion of this viewpoint. He's a smart guy, and he could read the room just well enough to know not to go in bareback with that one. But it sure is elephant in that room.

Dip Flash: I would word that differently, but that was my first thought was well. "Treat the women just like you treat the men" fails as advice because these guys know that their interactions with other men are deeply flawed.

The problem actually, is that they don't though. They think those interactions are cool and laid back and awesome, and that women(or men who get upset with what they say) just are like, uptight and corrupted by feminism and general lameass killjoys.

That's pretty much why i phrased it the way that i did. They don't see anything wrong with what they're doing, they just see the people who take issue with it as wrong. And they seem them like that in a way that's so adamant and extreme the only analog i can think of is scientologies supressive persons.

Anything: I see the 'feels entitled to sex' accusation thrown around a lot. I'm sure there are people who it does apply to. But please consider that it's an extremely ugly claim to make of someone who has given no indication whatsoever that that's how they see things.

Nah, it really is what's up here though. If this guy is putting his eggs in this basket, he's actively taking the side of people who basically get mad that they don't know how to operate the sex vending machines which are obviously unfairly distributing this valuable resource.

This "nerds cant talk to women" argument is explicitly about sex. Just because some guys try and slow walk it and shift everything on to discussions about social skills and stuff doesn't mean that the reactor core of their entire point, and frustration, is "i don't think i'm getting the sex i deserve". It's absolutely, explicitly and implicitly, about entitlement to sex. Simply having some good PR spin on it doesn't change that fact.

Also, just because he didn't explicitly say those words doesn't mean that this same discussion, as brought up a kabillion times by many nerdy guys in a wide age bracket... isn't the same old chestnut over and over and over.
posted by emptythought at 10:57 PM on January 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


I don't even know really where to put the blame for the current online culture wars between Feminists and Nerds.

Considering that Nerds are, in this war you're describing, more likely than not straight white males, it seems likely to me that the "war" falls well within the boundaries of "patriarchal backlash against increased rights and respect for women"; really no different than the reactions against the women's suffrage movement or the feminism movements of the 60's & 70's. Nothing new, in other words, for all that it's taking place online rather than in print magazine articles and live speeches.

And if that's so, then taking the position that because some feminists are bullies in some spaces online, therefore Feminists (in general) are equal participants in this war is a false equivalence.

I don't really know what to say though once I say the problem behind the campaign style bullying is probably more chan culture than nerd or gamer culture.

I think you are missing the forest for the trees. Chan culture vs. nerd culture vs. gamer culture vs. jock culture vs. bro culture is pointless hair-splitting when all of these cultures are created and nurtured under a largely patriarchal culture.

The problem is that some men think that women are less human than they themselves are. Campaign style bullying, if it's a greater factor than it was in the past, is a result of the growth of the internet and social media, and extends far beyond nerd or gamer or chan cultures. The Stuebenville case had no lack of campaign-style bullying, and that was as jock as jock could get. Arguing that we (culturally) need to find specific ways to reach and teach each minor male subculture in order to reduce misogyny is making the perfect the enemy of the good.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:02 PM on January 1, 2015 [20 favorites]


I grew up a shy, smart girl who was uncomfortable around guys myself--I had two sisters and no brothers and as much as it is popular these days to say we are all the same, boys were largely a mystery to me back then.

My older sisters' guy friends started paying attention to me before I hit my teens, and by sixteen I was being scouted to model, so I would have been an idiot not to realize, on some level, in the logical part of my brain, that I met some metrics of attractiveness--but like, I think, a lot of young women, I was painfully self-conscious and didn't really believe I was deserving of all the attention. I didn't think of boys as monsters, or lesser, or objectify them, or feel entitled to their attention, I just felt awkward and clueless around them.

So when I read SA's posts, my takeaway is that he was, like he says, a shy kid with no confidence who was scared of screwing up the whole courtship thing, because honestly I can relate to those feelings. When he talks about the stetl, it is so clear to me that what he is trying to communicate is how much he wished he had a script, a set of rules that laid out his whole part in the courtship ritual instead of the confusing and far more subjective maelstrom that dating evolved into--not that he wanted his wife to be his chattel, for heaven's sake!

What's really frustrating is he goes to pains to explain in detail that my interpretation is exactly what he means in a few of his later comments, but rather than be bothered to read them, a number of people in this thread have opted instead to just fill in the blanks themselves. And, in doing so, have jumped not just to concepts which are alien to my own experience, but to such ugly interpretations--rife with cynicism, laced with contempt, bitter, hostile, and so chillingly dehumanizing--that I am honestly appalled.

It's just...this thread has actually become painful for me to read.

Jesus.

I would not be the least surprised at this point to have someone in this thread postulating that SA is actually a lizard person with cannibalistic tendencies.
posted by misha at 11:49 PM on January 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


yep, not wanting to read the same tired screed we've read a thousand times from anti-feminists (but this time with exciting conflations of Tumblr/reddit memes about how terrible many nerd men are/some anti-gamergate stuff about how their fictional mascot who they made up for their "movement" isn't real with actual anti-Semitic propaganda) is exactly the same as calling someone a cannibalistic lizardman (I am not sure what this implies) (does he eat other lizardmen??)
posted by NoraReed at 12:09 AM on January 2, 2015 [18 favorites]


So when I read SA's posts, my takeaway is that he was, like he says, a shy kid with no confidence who was scared of screwing up the whole courtship thing, because honestly I can relate to those feelings. When he talks about the stetl, it is so clear to me that what he is trying to communicate is how much he wished he had a script, a set of rules that laid out his whole part in the courtship ritual instead of the confusing and far more subjective maelstrom that dating evolved into--not that he wanted his wife to be his chattel, for heaven's sake!

But here's the thing - for the script to work, everyone's got to be reading off the same page. Which means that for his set of rules to work, they need to not only bind him, but the other parties involved. And hey, I can get that as a child, he desired to have rules that he could follow to make sense of that, because I've been there too.

But as an adult who is about the same age as Aaronson, I can look back at teenage me's want of some sort of rulebook or cheat code for women for what it is -the childish wish of an individual who didn't have enough life experience to understand how damaging that whole concept is for all parties involved. Because wanting that rulebook doesn't just hurt the girls, it also hurts the guys. And yet Aaronson, who clearly has had a decade and a half of life experience from then to develop his social skills, continues to pine for these scripts (remember that was part of the reasoning for his blog's name.)

And that is why people are short on patience - not at the teenager who was struggling, but at the adult who has had the time to grow.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:14 AM on January 2, 2015 [17 favorites]


I just don't see how on one hand, mainstream feminists must be responsible for the nasty caricatures of nerds, but on the other hand, gamer culture can't be held responsible for the nasty #GG stuff. It sounds like plausible deniability for some, miniature American flags for others.

You make some good points Tony, it's a tough issue. I highlighted the SRS type culture too specifically because I didn't want to set up a false dichotomy. Groups have to be responsible for the behavior of subsets of their group to some degree. For instance, feminists are among the loudest voices against TERF in part because those beliefs reflect badly on feminism as a whole.

I do think Chan culture is linked to gaming culture, among other things. It's just that the whole chan world is such an alien culture to me that it feels particularly distinct from mainstream gamer culture. That isn't to say mainstream gamer culture isn't seriously misogynist, just that if you pick a gamer at random they aren't likely to be someone who has done things like or would support sending death threats to women because of game reviews. Maybe it's just the uncontrolled id of gamer culture, but it's always struck as more of an amalgamation of many influences, not just gaming.

But really, my frustration is that there is no way to get them to stop. Cockroaches, like I said. It creates a huge waste of mental bandwidth for the people who have to try and deal with it.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:51 AM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think you are missing the forest for the trees. Chan culture vs. nerd culture vs. gamer culture vs. jock culture vs. bro culture is pointless hair-splitting when all of these cultures are created and nurtured under a largely patriarchal culture.

Every culture has been created under a largely patriarchal structure. Some have done better or worse at realizing that and regulating and adjusting to it as we progress. I don't think it's really splitting hairs to point out one subset of that culture seems to me to be mainstreaming organized harassment and threats more so than other subsets. If you want to change a culture, it can be pretty important to understand both the ways it is unique and the ways it isn't.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:59 AM on January 2, 2015


[A couple of comments deleted. Let's skip the personal comments directed toward other people in the thread, and maybe try to avoid the impulse to ramp things up to the highest flame level in an already highly charged, difficult discussion? Thanks.]
posted by taz at 2:15 AM on January 2, 2015


Taz: You're right, I should have FIAMO (done). The "oh, boo hoo" and "sex vending machine" stuff is nasty. (And incorrect, since what the lonely nerds want, and place on a pedestal, is a relationship.)

Trying again: Another good Alexander piece, All debates are bravery debates, makes the point that different people need to hear different things. Aaronsen probably would have been better off not reading the feminist stuff he read.

Back in my Christian days, there was a phrase about Jesus "comforting the disturbed, and disturbing the comfortable", and even with evangelicalism's messed up views on human nature, the kinder preachers would make it clear that they knew there were disturbed people in their audience who would take their message against the comfortable as a message against them. But, as someone mentioned above, feminist literature is not there to save nerds. I've previously half-jokingly given Alexander a trigger warning when linking back to Mefi discussion on one of his posts. I just don't know what the answer is here.

I did What is the problem you are trying to solve? arguing using the geek analogy of software requirements capture. Feminists are experts on the problem, but the geeky guys shouldn't always take their suggestions on how the geeks should re-program themselves without doing some digging. Often the boss/customer suggests solutions which don't fit with how the software works (or which are aimed at solving problems they had with a competitor's software), so sometimes as a programmer you're going to have to push back and dig into the underlying requirement (hence the question of the title). To push back like that requires some level of confidence in yourself, though, which Aaronsen was lacking at the time.

Did anyone notice that Penny wrote a heartfelt paragraph about the lack of nice nerdy boys and Alexander offered to fix her up? Her twitter says she's in Boston which I think is a major centre of the vast LessWrong/MIRI/GivingWhatWeCan conspiracy. I think we need to know how this ends :-)
posted by pw201 at 3:41 AM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


> "Did anyone notice that Penny wrote a heartfelt paragraph about the lack of nice nerdy boys and Alexander offered to fix her up?"

I did not have the positive reaction to reading this offer that you seem to have had.
posted by kyrademon at 3:56 AM on January 2, 2015 [17 favorites]


> I did not have the positive reaction to reading this offer that you seem to have had.

Hmm... I think Alexander empathises (how could he not?) and genuinely wants to help. I don't think he's thinking of dating her himself, if that's what you mean, as he seems to have more partners than I think is feasible (but I'm probably old-fashioned). I think the conspiracy members are a bit odd but probably nicer than me (I've never given 10% of my income to anything, for example) so it's unlikely that anyone Alexander introduces to Penny would treat her badly.
posted by pw201 at 4:10 AM on January 2, 2015


I think Penny is a big girl and can find her own dates, and if she wanted to be set up, she would do that without Alexander's help.

I also think that the fact of the offer is pretty heavy evidence against the "of course we think women are people" claim, even if in jest. I'm sorry, but "Hey I'll hook you up" as a response to the FPP essay is not a response that indicates the reader got the point.
posted by PMdixon at 4:38 AM on January 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


I'm sure a woman who writes a column about feminism for the New Statesman would be happy to have as her matchmaker a guy who writes long rants about feminists often enough that he begins this latest one with a not-especially-regretful acknowledgement of this habit, and I'm sure she would be happy to be matched with ten people willing to be connected to the guy.

:-)
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:44 AM on January 2, 2015 [26 favorites]


but we've been assured that they probably wouldn't treat her badly!

Why do u hate men RE. :(
posted by winna at 5:20 AM on January 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


As a nerd, I really don't appreciate Scott Alexander's assumption that all nerds are men, or for that matter, that all feminists are women. As Laurie Penny pointed out, and as several of us have highlighted throughout this thread, girls are nerds and women are nerds. And there are plenty of men writing in support of feminism in the 21st century.

People keep linking to this guy and telling me I've got to read him, but he doesn't seem to have anything new to say, just an awful lot of words, and most of them hateful.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:37 AM on January 2, 2015 [22 favorites]


Tbh that is one of the worst Scott Alexander posts I've read. It was clearly written while angry and lacks clarity, and makes several rather awkward leaps. There are some points in there, but he's expressed them better in the past. I'm not convinced that that piece is an article designed to persuade the unpersuaded, while previous articles have been.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:42 AM on January 2, 2015


When these campaigns go on, you can't ask someone to just sit back and take it. But I don't know what effective methods can be taken. So, people act out in frustration instead and that's understandable. But I'm frustrated when innocent people get caught in the crossfire of the response too.

Because no feminist has ever had reason to feel frustration herself. Or been expected to sit back and take it without complaint.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:06 AM on January 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


since what the lonely nerds want, and place on a pedestal, is a relationship

No, they don't.

What they place on a pedestal: having a lady who will listen to them and make admiring coos, having said lady be sexually and emotionally available to them only, preferably while other fellows jealously tear their hair in rage. Making grand romantic gestures, but only such that the woman will coo to her friends and everyone in earshot about it, so everyone can know that They Are The Best Boyfriend.

I have yet to ever hear one of those guys say, "Hey, you know what I'd like to do? Share my life with someone so we can pull together against the world and carve out a life for ourselves." It's all performative.
posted by corb at 8:18 AM on January 2, 2015 [23 favorites]


> but we've been assured that they probably wouldn't treat her badly!

Come on people, this is the LW/MIRI/GWWC axis: 0 and 1 are not probabilities. (I'll go for "very unlikely", if you like).

I don't see how someone goes from his "I was having fun picking apart your essay and then I read that last paragraph and now I have feels and want to help, here, have some of my nerd friends" to "women are objects", though (perhaps it helps that Alexander already has Mefi Designated Enemy status because of the massive bee in his bonnet about SJ/feminism). Penny chose to write that final paragraph (by which I don't mean that her feelings are not genuine) perhaps seeking some empathy, and got it. But yeah, Alexander finding dates for Penny from among his fellow conspirators is more whimsy in my imagination than practical in reality. Sad though: I was looking forward to her next article on how everyone should sign up for cryonics and give 10% of their income to bilharzia prevention.
posted by pw201 at 8:22 AM on January 2, 2015


Every culture has been created under a largely patriarchal structure. Some have done better or worse at realizing that and regulating and adjusting to it as we progress. I don't think it's really splitting hairs to point out one subset of that culture seems to me to be mainstreaming organized harassment and threats more so than other subsets. If you want to change a culture, it can be pretty important to understand both the ways it is unique and the ways it isn't.

Fair enough, but I question whether any of these subcultures (like chan or gamer or atheist or SF cons, so on and so forth) are distinct enough from the larger geek/nerd/STEM subculture that they're part of as to require a significantly different approach. You say, "the whole chan world is such an alien culture to me that it feels particularly distinct from mainstream gamer culture", but given that you've acknowledged that they are linked, I think it's the responsibility of those who see a significant difference to make a strong case for the differences, in the same vein as "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." Because so far the people noting the similarities and commonality of the sexism & misogyny within and among all the various subcultures of geek/nerd/STEM culture have already established a strong position.

Or, to come at it from a slightly different angle, spending a lot of time analyzing why and how chan culture operates differently from gamer culture feels a lot like fiddling while Rome burns. All the energy is devoted to the navel-gazing aspect of teasing out minor differences in order to supposedly fine-tune the approach to solving a problem - which results in no actions being taken to solve the problem, because the analysis is never done.

Sometimes you just gotta put a big ol' wrench on the bolt and give it a good hard yank and see what happens.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:28 AM on January 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bullying and the long term psychological effects it can have on people are serious problems. The intense feelings worthlessness, unlovability, self-loathing and accompanying despair that Aaronson describes having in his early twenties are really common with both men and women who've been bullied over a long period of time, along with a elevated risk for depression and suicide.

Being bullied and socially isolated for a long time at period in their life when most people are learning how to make friends and negotiate social relationships. This is the kind thing that cognitive therapy is designed for.

I 'd like to make a couple comments:

a) Both Aaronson and Penny seem to think smart kids are targeted for bullying as a class because they're smart. This isn't actually true. Bullies are opportunistic; they target people who are physically or emotionally vulnerable or both. Kids who make good grades aren't statistically more likely to get bullied than kids who make average or poor grades. Bullies will just switch up the taunts. Generally, bullies will go after anything they think the person might feel self-conscious about and seems to get some kind of response.

Aaronson seems to have gone from believing that he personally was worthless, disgusting, and unworthy of love and affection to believing 'everybody hates us because we're STEM people'. Most people in STEM fields weren't bullied and aren't dealing the stuff he's dealing with. I suspect a lot of them probably wouldn't appreciate him speaking for them this way. I certainly wouldn't.

b) Bullying is an issue that affects a lot of people including women and people who don't go to college. It's not just a nerd problem, a STEM problem or a male problem.

c) I don't think it makes any sense to claim that bullying causes misogyny or a sense of entitlement. Feeling worthless and believing you're undeserving of love and affection is common with people who're dealing with emotional consequences of being bullied is not the same as feeling like you're entitled to have sex with people. (And it's worth remembering that women who've been bullied frequently believing they're inherently worthless and unlovable too.)

d) I don't think there's a connection between bullying and the low percentage of women in certain STEM fields. First of all, people in these fields aren't more likely to have been bullied than other people, and I don't think there's a causal relationship between being bullied and sexism. Being bullied certainly doesn't prevent people from picking up sexist attitudes from the larger society their part of, though, and incorporating that into their world view.
posted by nangar at 8:32 AM on January 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


But yeah, Alexander finding dates for Penny from among his fellow conspirators is REALLY CONDESCENDING. It is in no way nice or empathetic. He's making fun of her. Or at least that's how it comes across.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:35 AM on January 2, 2015 [17 favorites]


I've forgotten what we were arguing about. Does this sum it up?

Aaronson says he literally had the hardest time as a kid, and this was because of feminism. People acknowledged that he had a hard time as a kid, but it wasn't the hardest, and it wasn't because of feminism. Some people have been mean to Aaronson for saying stupid things, but his defenders point out that he had a hard time as a kid.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:49 AM on January 2, 2015 [10 favorites]


Alexander finding dates for Penny from among his fellow conspirators is more whimsy in my imagination than practical in reality

Assuming Alexander was remotely serious (which I doubt, given the sarcastic nature of whacking great swaths of his essay - he gave Penny a "Probably Not The Literal Worst" ribbon, FFS), he's still making the same kind of category error that Aaronson is - assuming that this is all rooted in an individual's lack of romantic success and ignoring the whole idea that there are larger cultural and systemic forces at play here.

And, on preview, Elementary Penguin is exactly right - offering to set Penny up with one of his friends as if that'll solve all of the problems she addresses, as if this is all down to one lonely girl not getting enough cock or romance, is damned condescending.

Penny chose to write that final paragraph (by which I don't mean that her feelings are not genuine) perhaps seeking some empathy

No.

Penny wrote that last paragraph;
And on that note I shall return to what I was doing before I read this post, which was drinking sweet tea and weeping about how boys don't seem to want to kiss short-haired lady nerds, and trying not to blame the whole world for my broken heart, which is becoming more complex and interesting in the healing but still stings like a boiling ball of papercuts. I'll let you know how that goes.
as a way to tie up in a personal way what she'd been writing about for the entire damn rest of the piece - that Aaronson is trying to blame the whole world for my [his] broken heart, and that that approach is not only unproductive, but the result of a very narrow perspective. That's the important bit, not the part about weeping into her sweet tea. She's looking for neither empathy nor dates.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:58 AM on January 2, 2015 [18 favorites]


corb: Not many people at the tender age I'm thinking of (teens, early 20s) would describe what they wanted in a relationship in terms which sound like a lifelong supportive commitment, so it's not surprising that the geeks don't either.

I agree that people who have never had a relationship don't really know what it entails, they're just out in the cold with their faces pressed against the glass and want to get into the warm. The fact that relationships can themselves be trouble and hard work doesn't figure, or at least, didn't in my awkward years, because what you usually see from the outside is couples having fun doing stuff together (the middle classes tending to have our arguments in private). Hence my phrase about placing relationships on a pedestal.

I'd disagree that what they actually want is a someone to make them look good to others, because what I actually wanted was more inwardly directed: I want to stop feeling lonely and like I was missing out on this amazing experience which could have no possible downsides.

nangar: That's interesting. Got any links to research? The model I had in my head of how the bullying of geeks came about is that a lot of STEM people are not entirely neurotypical (q.v. Simon Baron-Cohen's stuff) and that those non-NT traits are associated with STEM ability and also attract bullies. I guess that the brilliant all-rounders probably don't get bullied, so intelligence in itself doesn't make you a target.

soundguy99: Yes, you're probably right. Alexander's offer (if serious) then just looks like the standard geek trope of trying to fix rather than just lending emotional support. I don't believe he's being sarcastic in that section, but you'd have to ask him.
posted by pw201 at 9:12 AM on January 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have yet to ever hear one of those guys say, "Hey, you know what I'd like to do? Share my life with someone so we can pull together against the world and carve out a life for ourselves." It's all performative.

Yes! Part of the reason I'm so sure about this is that dudes (who have always made and continue to make up the majority of my friend base) have always been prone to whining to me that they just can't find a girlfriend, oh, woe, all of the good girls/women are taken, they only want to date jerks, they don't like nerds, etc. etc. I'll usually sigh and make a little joke like, "Hello! What am I, chopped liver?" And they say, "But dbr, I don't think of you as a woman. You're one of the guys!" Or they tell me that they love my personality, but physically, they only want to get with pretty women with long hair and [holds cupped hands in front of pectoral region], you know, women who really take care of themselves. And I'm not even being serious, it's not like I'm propositioning them! They just say this stuff of their own volition.

What a whole bunch of them mean, or at least what a whole bunch of them will openly tell me that they mean if pressed, is that they just don't want to date the female version of themselves. They don't want to date someone as awkward or nerdy as they are, because ewww. Society teaches men to aim up, to ask out the most objectively attractive women they can find, to "game the system" in order to earn the company of higher-status (read: better-looking) women, and to feel entitled to the companionship of a woman who is decidedly "out of [his] league." The PUA movement is the extreme end of this, but the watered-down version is everyday life -- look at the drop-dead gorgeous women that TV and movie casting directors choose as girlfriends and wives for zillions of unkempt, paunchy dude characters, while the same situation with sexes reversed is basically unimaginable. On the flip side, women are taught to settle; men tell us that any requirements we might have in terms of appearance or personality are snooty, egotistical, and damnably prejudiced against specific populations (usually shy, awkward nerds). They tell us that having random dudes hit us on the street or at work or in elevators is just a compliment, and besides, some women love that stuff! How else are men supposed to get dates or express interest?!

This isn't to say that anyone on the planet should ever, ever attempt to date someone to whom they are not attracted (on behalf of unattractive people everywhere, o god, PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS), but just to say that the kind of shy, awkward dudes who are given to ceaselessly moaning about wanting a girlfriend don't just want a connection with a woman who is their social or emotional equal, they want a sexy girlfriend, almost always a distinctly feminine girlfriend, a girlfriend their guy friends will envy. Their requirements lean heavily toward explicitly weeding out a population they could otherwise reasonably consider to be their counterparts in the struggle: awkward, shy, unattractive nerds who happen to be women.

Laurie Penny expressed this sentiment much better, but similarly awkward or nerdy women aren't even considered "women" to guys like this, let alone "people." So I have a very low level of tolerance for the "but awkward, nerdy men just want relationships!" line of thinking because that is not the way I experience their True Desires on the ground at all.
posted by divined by radio at 9:14 AM on January 2, 2015 [46 favorites]


and [holds cupped hands in front of pectoral region]

I assume this is often accompanied by the phrase "huge tracts of land."
posted by soundguy99 at 9:24 AM on January 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


And on that note I shall return to what I was doing before I read this post, which was drinking sweet tea and weeping about how boys don't seem to want to kiss short-haired lady nerds, and trying not to blame the whole world for my broken heart, which is becoming more complex and interesting in the healing but still stings like a boiling ball of papercuts. I'll let you know how that goes.

Apparently people are interpreting this last paragraph at face value, which I think is a mistake. Penny may have been drinking tea before she read Aaronson's post, but I'd bet money she was neither weeping about her love life nor blaming the world for it. That, I would venture, is something she wrote as a way of pointing out that Aaronson is the one engaging in the behaviors in question, and he would do well to drop them.

And the problem with his offer to set her up with his followers is not the stereotypical "men try to solve problems while women just want to emote" (and suggesting that that's the problem indicates a certain unquestioning acceptance of "men are like this and women are like that, amirite"), it's that to many of us who've been round this kind of discussion before it sounds wayyyy too close to "she just needs to get laid and she'll stop being so annoying about these issues".
posted by Lexica at 9:28 AM on January 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


the kind of shy, awkward dudes who are given to ceaselessly moaning about wanting a girlfriend don't just want a connection with a woman who is their social or emotional equal, they want a sexy girlfriend, almost always a distinctly feminine girlfriend, a girlfriend their guy friends will envy

Yeah, this a thousand times.

I, being a geek with a lot of guy friends, see this all the time. X nerd guy bemoans how the women he wants won't go out with them. Meanwhile, there's usually ladies, sometimes even ladies they are hanging out with, throwing themselves at them, but they can't conceive of "lowering their standards." They want the lady who's always dressed up, always wears makeup, etc, while sometimes not being bothered to change their shirt or buy dandruff shampoo. They shudder at the notion of a size 12 girl, while being a hundred pounds overweight. They want the lady who's the life of the party, while having crippling social anxiety.

I note: none of these things make you undateable, but if you're insisting that people who are like you are below your standards, you have a problem. And that is essentially the nerd guy problem. They want the booth babes, not the ladies actually attending convention with them.
posted by corb at 9:32 AM on January 2, 2015 [33 favorites]


I need to make an edit to my previous comment. I wrote:
Being bullied and socially isolated for a long time at period in their life when most people are learning how to make friends and negotiate social relationships. This is the kind thing that cognitive therapy is designed for.
I meant write:
Being bullied and socially isolated for a long time at period in your life when most people are learning how to make friends and negotiate social relationships gives you a distorted view of yourself and the social world. This is the kind of thing that cognitive therapy is designed for.
(Significant chunk of missing words in italics.)

I also meant to add:
The feelings of worthlessness and despair that people who are bullied for a long time frequently have are not the same as being shy or self-conscious.
I should probably also add that I'm not defending Aaronson's views. I'm mostly trying to correct misconceptions about bullying that people have been repeating a lot in the thread.
posted by nangar at 9:44 AM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I agree 100% with dbr and corb. Even men who recognize that that phenomenon is bullshit still feel that impulse to 'trade up' in terms of looks. It's so ingrained in our culture from an early age.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:49 AM on January 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


I looked at Alexander's offer to set Penny up with his readers as along the lines of the guys who would come up to me in the school cafeteria lunch line and say "My friend over there wants to go out with you." and then laugh uproariously at the funny joke that his friend would ever in a million years like me.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:08 AM on January 2, 2015 [14 favorites]


I note: none of these things make you undateable, but if you're insisting that people who are like you are below your standards, you have a problem. And that is essentially the nerd guy problem. They want the booth babes, not the ladies actually attending convention with them.

The way nerds treat women is definitely problematic, but I don't know if "dating up" is only a nerd guy problem. Everybody wants to date someone attractive. Online dating sites show that attractive people get more messages, with attractive women getting a whole lot more messages (which creates a whole 'nother issue of online harassment).

Can't someone on one hand treat women as people and agree that women shouldn't have to settle, but on the other hand also want to date someone "out of their league"? Or is that too much of a contradiction?
posted by FJT at 10:17 AM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just two comments above, MisantropicPainforest points out that, yeah, it's a culture-wide issue, not just a nerd guy problem, and he's right.

The thing is, though, is that I think in a lot of ways nerd/geek/STEM culture tries to lay claim to the idea that it's not your "standard" male culture; it's better, more accepting of weirdness, more of a meritocracy, open to a wider range of people. And in the last few years there have been a lot of women pointing out that it's not actually all that different from "standard" or jock or bro culture in terms of how it treats women.

You can want to date whoever you want to date - the problem is with the cognitive dissonance that occurs when nerd guys complain that "hot chicks" won't date them, while still claiming that nerd culture is a refuge from most of the garbage aspects of mainstream masculine culture.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:40 AM on January 2, 2015 [21 favorites]


Wanting to be attracted to your partner is normal. Assuming your partner must be conventionally attractive, with all the work that requires, while you should not need to put any time or effort into your own appearance is the disconnect.
posted by jaguar at 10:41 AM on January 2, 2015 [15 favorites]


Can't someone on one hand treat women as people and agree that women shouldn't have to settle, but on the other hand also want to date someone "out of their league"? Or is that too much of a contradiction?

Yeah, I think that's a reasonable human want. It's okay to want things that you know aren't "fair." It just gets bad when you don't realize it's unfair, or act like you're entitled to it, get bitter when it doesn't happen, or (like divined by radio describes) deny the woman- or person-hood of your friends because they don't meet your standards. Or refuse to accept that you don't know everything and you still have more to learn.

In the case of nerdy boys, it goes back to the very title of this post: they might suffer, a lot. It doesn't mean they're not privileged in certain ways. It also doesn't mean they're incapable of inflicting harm on others, even unintentionally. I don't think feminism is the cause of their suffering.

I'm also noticing myself doing a lot of this, so I might have to let this thread go. I appreciate this comment from Joe in Australia for some perspective. I've been wondering if there's anything Scott Aaronson could possibly say that would make me feel better, but I think I've fallen into a trap of "I don't just want him to say sorry, I want him to realize and acknowledge all the ways he's wrong," which I'm not sure is fair. Even if it is, it'll take a long time and I have other things that need doing.
posted by j.r at 10:46 AM on January 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


> What a whole bunch of them mean, or at least what a whole bunch of them will openly tell me that they mean if pressed, is that they just don't want to date the female version of themselves. They don't want to date someone as awkward or nerdy as they are, because ewww.

This is exactly right, and I'm amazed it even needs to be explained. To take at his word a nerd who says he just wants a relationship is like taking at his word a politician who says he just wants to help people. Both probably believe what they're saying at some level, but you'd be foolish to believe it yourself.
posted by languagehat at 11:02 AM on January 2, 2015 [19 favorites]


I agree soundguy99. I left stem culture in high school because I liked metal and drugs, but also I didn't like their smug culture. still a fucking nerd but it's in the social sciences and feminism

Just a hypothesis but maybe nerds/STEM are so resentful of 'hipsters' because many hipsters are/were stem nerds but figured out how to care about how to present themselves and how to treat women as people?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


To take at his word a nerd who says he just wants a relationship is like taking at his word a politician who says he just wants to help people. Both probably believe what they're saying at some level, but you'd be foolish to believe it yourself.

Foolish to believe a nerd who says he just wants a relationship... right. Can we believe *anybody* who says they want a relationship? Should anybody have ever believed you if you ever said you wanted a relationship? This is so uncharitable, it's just silly.
posted by amorphatist at 11:20 AM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


> Can we believe *anybody* who says they want a relationship? Should anybody have ever believed you if you ever said you wanted a relationship?

No and no. Nobody ever just wants a relationship, and to state that plainly is not uncharitable, it's realistic.
posted by languagehat at 11:28 AM on January 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


Even men who recognize that that phenomenon is bullshit still feel that impulse to 'trade up' in terms of looks. It's so ingrained in our culture from an early age.

Nerds, in particular, seem to buttress this with "objective" appeals to evolutionary psychology. Men can't help but go after size 2's with long blonde hair and vivacious personalities - Because Science! And if you disagree, you're soft-hearted, soft-headed, anti-science, and probably too emotional because YOU are not a blonde size 2 - but hey, Science!

It's the nerd/atheist version of The Bible Says So. And men who would never even think of trotting out The Bible Says So or God Ordained It (because lolXtians) just love them some ev-psych. Because it's Science. So was phrenology. (Rochester actually flirts with Jane Eyre by mentioning the bumps on her head and what they allegedly mean. Phrenology was In when Charlotte Bronte was writing.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:29 AM on January 2, 2015 [19 favorites]


You can want to date whoever you want to date - the problem is with the cognitive dissonance that occurs when nerd guys complain that "hot chicks" won't date them, while still claiming that nerd culture is a refuge from most of the garbage aspects of mainstream masculine culture.

It sounds like nerd culture wants to have it's cake and eat it too. On one hand, it wants to reject the stereotypical high school derived hierarchy that nerds are below jocks, prom kings, and the other popular kids. On the other hand, nerds want to be seen as the top of that same ranking, that their outsider status and weirdness makes them unique and thus better than other people.

Maybe this is partly what drives nerd guys to not want to date other nerds. Nerd guys know/feel nerds are second tier in the pecking order, so they don't like dating their own kind. They want to be seen with someone better to validate themselves and to place them in the top tier of the high school hierarchy.
posted by FJT at 11:30 AM on January 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


I expect most geeks figure it out. Most of the ones I know are married.

As a cautionary tale, I knew a geek guy who was highly sought after in his social circle— he could basically pick who he wanted, and he married a very conventionally attractive non-geek girl. It didn't seem like a happy marriage. She wasn't interested in his geeky subjects, and didn't like it when (say) he wanted to play video games for hours.
posted by zompist at 11:36 AM on January 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


> I don't think there's a connection between bullying and the low percentage of women in certain STEM fields.

Not a connection, per se, but I do think there is an important interaction: for awkward, geeky boys, STEM pursuits can be a refuge; but for awkward, geeky girls (esp once puberty hits) it's not, because they then not only get bullied for being geeky and awkward, they also get bullied by other girls for not being feminine enough and have to deal with the uncomfortable interactions with the geeky awkward boys (either being treated as an object or being treated as "undateable" while the boys objectify others). So while joining the chess club or competing in the math olympiad may not make things completely better socially for a geeky boy, it could at least be a source of some camaraderie, whereas for geeky girls those activities are pure social risk. And so they opt out rather than in....

In yesterday's update, SA described being able to leave "comment-171-gate" behind to immerse himself in his intellectual passion:
For 90 minutes I got to forget all that, and just throw myself into separations between randomized and quantum query complexity. It was the most cathartic lecture of my life. And in the near future, I’d like more such catharses.
But wouldn't we all? I know that blissful feeling of escape. I am glad for him that he had it. I hope he has as many as he needs, just as I hope everyone has access to such catharses. But the fact of the matter is that, all else being equal, if he had been a woman, there's a good chance that that lecture wouldn't have been a catharsis for him. There's a good chance that his social anxiety, mixed with implicit societal sexism, would have pushed him away from math rather than into it; and there's an even better chance that even if he had made it to where he is now, he wouldn't have felt free to give the lecture with as much abandon and improvisation as he did ["I showed up with no slides, no notes, no anything—just me and the whiteboard"] for fear that even the slightest slip would be taken as evidence of incompetence.

The fact that he doesn't see that his refuge from his pain is one that is systematically denied to women & minorities precisely because of the way that some men [& some women] in those fields behave is a damning blind spot. Worse, he's exacerbating that environment with his assertion -- the one that started this whole discussion -- that STEM men are somehow too shy & nerdy to harass women. That attitude is exactly what leads to the shy & nerdy girls being told "but he's such a sweet, shy young man!" or "oh, can't you be nicer to him, he doesn't have many friends" (not to mention "you should be grateful for the attention!") if they do report being harassed.
posted by Westringia F. at 11:43 AM on January 2, 2015 [42 favorites]


Nerds, in particular, seem to buttress this with "objective" appeals to evolutionary psychology. Men can't help but go after size 2's with long blonde hair and vivacious personalities - Because Science!

The way you know this is bullshit is that they generally tend to couch the evo-psych stuff in - "Women are evolutionarily programmed to be attracted to big macho types, that's wrong and they should break past their programming" at the same time as they say "Men are evolutionarily programmed to go after the busty size 2s, we should just go without without criticism." It's an excuse for what they want as well as an excuse for why they don't succeed rather than a genuinely held philosophy.
posted by corb at 11:58 AM on January 2, 2015 [21 favorites]


Huh, I just thought of something. The gedanken experiments that SA engages in -- imagining himself as a woman or as a person of color and deciding he'd have been better off -- are leading him to some bizarre conclusions because his privilege as a white man, coupled with the very direct experience of his own suffering, interferes with his ability to fully imagine the experience of discrimination. In a way, he's falling into his own local minimum, unable to explore the space. So maybe he needs to follow a different reaction coordinate: not by checking his racial and sexual privilege, but checking his "passion" privilege.

The gedanken experiment I'd sorta like to see him perform is to imagine what his life would have been like if his passion as a young man had not been mathematics, but ballet. Everything else would be held constant: still shy, still nerdy (but now about ballet), still anxious to the point of paralysis, still lonely to the point of being suicidal. Importantly, though, he's still white, middle class, and male. He need not [yet] concern himself with the imagined experiences of racism or of sexual harassment; he need only imagine how things would have turned out if his passion, instead of being socially acceptable for boys, was socially unacceptable. Pursuing it would mean even MORE harassment and out-casting: it would give the bullies orders of magnitude more ammunition against him, would not offer even a small community of like-minded boys, and the other kids who were into ballet -- girls -- would never fully accept him in the way they accepted one another. What would have happened if his passion wasn't a social refuge, but a source of even more peril & isolation? How would things have turned out?

Because that's sorta the experience of shy, nerdy, math-geek girls. And having found this intermediate state, perhaps he might be better able to imagine, on top of all that, the threat of sexual harassment.
posted by Westringia F. at 12:26 PM on January 2, 2015 [50 favorites]


(& of course "even more [social] peril & isolation" also includes the impact that having a gender non-conforming intellectual passion would have had on his heterosexual romantic prospects, esp. as an adolescent. But I'm belaboring the obvious now.)
posted by Westringia F. at 4:09 PM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just a hypothesis but maybe nerds/STEM are so resentful of 'hipsters' because many hipsters are/were stem nerds but figured out how to care about how to present themselves and how to treat women as people?

I'd vote this one as semi-plausible. This basically describes the trajectory my entire group of friends that all stayed together pretty much degrassi/skins style from middle school through college took. it was like awkward nerdy kid>awful 4chan gamergate troll>halfway decent person, but drifting away from a lot of the original nerds and trolls>hipsters>??? since that word doesn't mean anything anymore and everyone kept changing.

Everyone, men and women, are still huge gigantic enormous nerds of various stripes and interests, as is basically everyone we hang out with. But basically all of them have almost entirely unplugged from "nerd culture" and anime/gaming cons and stuff, and it's hilarious how much regular animu shirt nerds are like FUCKING HIPSTER F*****S! either in the background or like, right to our faces. And some of them are people i, or my friends used to hang out with and we all totally got along, too.

It's also worth noting though, that going all the way back to middle school my group of nerdy friends was pretty evenly divided between girls and boys, and it stayed that way all through high school and college. I think treating women as people was a lot easier because of that, and it also probably helped it not be such a weird insular group that was hard to connect outside of.(then again i was awkward and aspergersy and getting along with anyone was hard, so it was all about the same difficulty anyways)
posted by emptythought at 4:50 PM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


> Can we believe *anybody* who says they want a relationship? Should anybody have ever believed you if you ever said you wanted a relationship?

No and no. Nobody ever just wants a relationship, and to state that plainly is not uncharitable, it's realistic.


I don't understand this? Do really not want a relationship, and also assume no one else does?

If so, could you maybe explain your reasoning here? I have met plenty of people who want, and have, relationships.

And yes, nerdy guys are definitely included in there. Most of the couples I know who officially became couples at a young age, and still have long lasting committed relationships? At least one of them was a nerd.

Which isn't to say that people sometimes have a problem looking "out of their league", of course. I think that does happen. I just don't think it is exclusively a nerdy guy thing. We have all known someone like that, but it is just as likely, in my experience, to be a girl who is pining after some attractive guy who is not interested in her as the other way around.
posted by misha at 6:04 PM on January 2, 2015


...and the other kids who were into ballet -- girls -- would never fully accept him in the way they accepted one another.

Speaking as someone who's spent her life with one foot in the performing arts, that's one place where the analogy falls apart. He might be bullied by the other boys (and maybe even some girls) outside of ballet. But in the ballet world? Even at the beginner level he'd be not just welcomed, but fawned over like the prodigal son. Ballet schools want boys so badly that any male dancer will quickly find himself a featured performer if he puts forth anything more than the minimum of effort.

And the girls will mob him like groupies, the more so the older they all get. A straight male ballet dancer is rarely at a loss for a date. Ballet would be the same refuge for a ballet-passionate boy that math is for a math-passionate boy.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:48 PM on January 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


I don't understand this? Do really not want a relationship, and also assume no one else does?

I read languagehat's comment with a strong emphasis on the word 'just' and took it to mean that almost all people want more than just an amorphous experience of 'relating' from their (intimate partner) relationships. They also want sex and other physical benefits that come from having another (sexually engaged) human intimately in their lives.
posted by Kerasia at 6:53 PM on January 2, 2015


I gave up on the thread about 75% down but I do want to say that I have no doubt that teen Scott would have gladly traded places with any type of disadvantaged person. Not necessarily because he thought he suffering was the worst possible suffering, but because surely he hated himself more than anyone else, and if he was a different person then he would be someone he didn't dispise.
posted by bq at 7:24 PM on January 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


They also want sex and other physical benefits that come from having another (sexually engaged) human intimately in their lives.

Yeah, that is pretty much understood to be part of the relationship package... so, I don't see any valid reason for languagehat's assertion that nerds have some additional nefarious subtext when they say they want a relationship.
posted by amorphatist at 7:25 PM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


"I would like to have sex with someone" and "I would like to have an equal partnership with someone" are different things.
posted by jaguar at 7:45 PM on January 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah, that is pretty much understood to be part of the relationship package

I have a relationship with my friends but I don't have sex with them.
posted by Kerasia at 8:57 PM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't actually buy into the claim that these so-called nerdy young men are all pining for relationships, not just sex. If they were, they would have friendships with women. But they don't. They have friendships with other so-called nerdy young men and objectify women as sex-givers. The notion that they all want committed relationships where they give as much as they take is a an unproven derail.
posted by Kerasia at 9:07 PM on January 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


I gave up on the thread about 75% down but I do want to say that I have no doubt that teen Scott would have gladly traded places with any type of disadvantaged person. Not necessarily because he thought he suffering was the worst possible suffering, but because surely he hated himself more than anyone else, and if he was a different person then he would be someone he didn't dispise.

Well, yeah, and a lot of us have been there as teenagers as well. It has a lot to do with immaturity combined with a lack of life experience that makes us overly inward focused.

But the thing is that most of us, now that we're adults with that life experience and maturity that we lacked as teenagers, can look back at our teenage selves, and realize that our feelings then were the product of immaturity. But in contrast, Aaronson is using his teenage suffering to justify holding the contemporary position that "hey, the concept of privilege is just a bunch of meaningless malarkey". And that's where a lot of us are having problems with his argument.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:39 PM on January 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


These guys (starting with SA himself in the original comment) are the same ones who have been FRIENDZONED ALL THEIR LIVES and can't stop complaining about how women have the bad taste to bed "Neanderthals" and "assholes" while their Nice Guy(tm) selves can't get pussy.

That they don't want relationships with women is shown every time they treat friendship with women as the shit prize.
posted by sukeban at 2:35 AM on January 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


When these campaigns go on, you can't ask someone to just sit back and take it. But I don't know what effective methods can be taken. So, people act out in frustration instead and that's understandable. But I'm frustrated when innocent people get caught in the crossfire of the response too.
-
Because no feminist has ever had reason to feel frustration herself. Or been expected to sit back and take it without complaint.


I think you must of been skimming my comment a little bit before you replied because you seem to have missed that I said the frustrated response is completely understandable in the thing you quoted.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:50 AM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


> I read languagehat's comment with a strong emphasis on the word 'just' and took it to mean that almost all people want more than just an amorphous experience of 'relating' from their (intimate partner) relationships.

This is, of course, correct.
posted by languagehat at 7:23 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


aronson is using his teenage suffering to justify holding the contemporary position

Oh yes. I concur.
posted by bq at 7:37 AM on January 3, 2015


The problem is that some men think that women are less human than they themselves are. Campaign style bullying, if it's a greater factor than it was in the past, is a result of the growth of the internet and social media, and extends far beyond nerd or gamer or chan cultures.

-#BanMen - "In response to a cascade of misogyny, a Twitter meme was born."
Ridiculous as #BanMen can seem, it’s a weapon that’s perfectly suited to the contemporary battlefield, where attacks have to be outlandish to break through. Against rape threats, report-abuses, shaming-retweets, girl power. The year that Beyoncé stood in silhouette with the word ‘'Feminist' in lights behind her, and Taylor Swift clapped for the cause, gender-inflected anger isn’t whiny anymore—it’s hip. Young feminists got there through language of extremes and exclusion. If there were a word for the female variation of ballsy, I’d use it.

Man-banning has, inevitably, even become the stuff of Internet think-pieces. The blogger and tech entrepreneur Anil Dash spent 2013 retweeting only women, and wrote about it in February. For him, he wrote in Medium, the tactic was about thoughtfulness and about a “growing sense of social responsibility about what messages I choose to share and amplify, and whose voices and identities I strive to bring to a broader audience.” Inspired by Dash, BuzzFeed’s Katie Notopoulus decided to unfollow men on Twitter, in July publishing the explainer “Why I Created The #UnfollowAMan Movement,” with a handy checklist. All of a sudden, it’s kosher to target stereotypically male behavior—regard the New York M.T.A.'s attack on “manspreading.”
-Study supports the theory that 'men are idiots': "researchers in north east England decided to test 'male idiot theory' (MIT) that many of the differences in risk seeking behaviour may be explained by the observation that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things."

fwiw :P

also btw, just to spell it out (xsplain), 'they' (who self identify as such) are trying to establish a new social hierarchy based on cognitive ability where everyone knows their place thru evidenced-based 'proof of work' and while the goal of overturning* current (opaquely corrupt) rentier-capitalist oligarchic systems may be laudable in theory, for feminists (humanists? or any PLUURR types) this could still be objectionable in practice.

like i was reading this paul krugman interview by ezra klein where he (klein) goes: "you have people who themselves are really bought into intelligence as being the most important of all traits and they underestimate importance of other motivations and aptitudes. But it seems as likely as not that a superintelligence would be completely hopeless at anything beyond the analysis of really abstract intellectual problems."

---
*recall buterin: “I prefer thinking about the problem of ‘How do we make sure that all people have at least something?’ So figuring out how to create a currency that would, say, give everyone on earth one unit per year—to me, that would be the ideal.” so besides potential blockchain applications and the bank of japan, you also have the european central bank seriously considering how to implement 'helicoptor money'! (speaking of SJW types...)
posted by kliuless at 9:11 AM on January 3, 2015


Yeah, that is pretty much understood to be part of the relationship package

I have a relationship with my friends but I don't have sex with them.


Clearly one of us is doing it wrong.
posted by amorphatist at 9:22 AM on January 3, 2015


Metafilter user points out relationships and sex are linked. We have two avenues to proceed here. We could say, "Obviously they mean romantic relationships because nobody is unaware of the concept of platonic friendships and familial relationships."

or

We could take the path where we treat the situation as if they don't understand that and respond as if they are unaware there is any such thing as platonic friendships or familial relations.


Umm, it's up to you.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:40 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


As others have said, I took languagehat's comment to mean that some people are interested in romantic relationships + sex, some people are primarily interested in romantic relationships (not necessarily with sex), and some people are primarily interested in sex (not necessarily with a romantic relationship). I believe languagehat's original point was that it was possible that Aaronson's boy nerd might have been more interested in the sex (not necessarily with a romantic relationship) side of things.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:28 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


And to add to what hydropsyche said, only being interested in women as ways to have a relationship (with or without sex) is objectifying them.

Not that this isn't common for young men to do, goodness knows I was (and probably still am) guilty of this to some degree. But it's an immature and un-useful attitude to have, and not even acknowledging that one could have friendships with women the same as with men isn't a good thing to do.

Not that I think Aaronson was necessarily doing this; it's a bit hard for me to tell based on what he's written. But part of developing healthy, mature relationships (platonic or romantic) is having some serious understanding of your own attitudes, which Aaronson hasn't demonstrated in these bits of writing. That's not on women, that's on him.
posted by thegears at 11:51 AM on January 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


kliuliss: Man-banning has, inevitably, even become the stuff of Internet think-pieces. The blogger and tech entrepreneur Anil Dash spent 2013 retweeting only women, and wrote about it in February.

That's explicitly not man banning, though; men were not driven from twitter. That is Anil deciding to recalibrate his twitter heuristics by consciously choosing to focus on an often under-represented and under-recognized population. Unfollowing men is not removing them from society - it is attempting to adjust an imbalance already in place while keeping the flow of information manageable. Even "manspreading" is about men literally putting their bodies into the space meant for their neighbors - that is, men who literally and physically push other people aside to take up additional room instead of using the space in front of their bodies.

As for your other points, neither Beyoncé nor Taylor Swift have banned men - even from their own professional support teams. People on twitter can't, and actually aren't, banning men - though honestly I'm not a fan of the hashtag as I think it's splatter damage is too broad and it's poor satire. The most recent tweets when I saw on it were people saying feminists repulse men and adding the #gamergate hashtag (ethics in journalism!), people responding to the article you linked, and one weird story about a girl dating a pack of hotdogs. Given right now it seems to be a half-hour to sixteen hours between tweets on the tag, it's not exactly rocking - so my guess is other people agree with me that it's not a useful hashtag.

The study of gender and the Darwin Awards (the "male idiot theory" example) is so poorly designed in terms of generalization that I'm astonished. Selecting from a sample size that is designed not only for inaccuracy but for confounds is breathtakingly pointless. The major confound I see on the face of it is culturally-acceptable means of establishing dominance, but I'm sure there are a ton more.

I'm baffled by the "proof of work" stuff from Japan; not only is it far afield of what we're talking about but it's also a very different culture with a very different work ethic and concept of the value of individuals within the collective.

The points about intelligence work equally well when applied to women with high intelligence, so there isn't really a gender confound there except insofar as our study of human intelligence shows minor gender variance (with the caveat that we don't have a way to select against confounds yet, and our ability to functionally define intelligence in a way which is not bent by enculturation and presumed superiority and inferiority (classism in particular) is poor). I personally believe that what we usually consider "intelligent" is a combination of faster processing speed, easier or unique retrieval systems for information, and a flair for jargon. Of the three, the one which scans closest to what I consider "intelligent" is the processing speed; the rest is a matter of focus and aptitude.

This mostly seems like a stack of fairly cherry picked stuff with a "men are being destroyed!" framing, which is a shame.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:21 PM on January 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


5. I believe there still exist men who think women are inferior, that they have no business in science, that they’re good only for sandwich-making and sex. Though I don’t consider it legally practicable, as a moral matter I’d be fine if every such man were thrown in prison for life.

i cannot imagine a woman writing this without the entire thread being derailed into how extreme feminists want to throw people in jail for sandwich jokes. is this what feminism has come down to? this is why liberals can't get anything done! etc.

i think this quote fits into the criticisms about his superficial understanding of feminism, also the performance aspect that corb brought up: so everyone can know that They Are The Best Boyfriend.

he thinks he's the best feminist (well, 97% on board. as long as you don't talk about white male privilege as it applies to nerds because that's the end of the discussion as determined by him) and showing it by being super harsh about incredibly common attitudes, shitty as though they may be. see! i brought up the sandwich joke thing that feminists hate.

i think one reason people think we are picking on him is because his superficiality with the ideas leads him to constantly be stepping into tropes without his realizing it. you are connecting with his pain which is your pain, but not seeing the red flags the rest of us are seeing (or disagreeing that they are flags to begin with).

I would’ve traded all three privileges for the privilege of not being miserable.

he is, after all this, still mixing up the definitions of privilege in one sentence. the privilege of not being miserable is the original sense of the word, and is sure as shit not guaranteed by being NOT male or white or straight or cis. you also would've traded places with a straight white guy who wasn't miserable. i mean even as a deliberate pun it highlights his confused thinking on this aspect, but other people have pointed to it plenty.

I never meant to minimize the suffering of other people, nor to deny that many others have had things as bad or worse than I did (again, how does one even compare?).

it's been done. dollars earned, rates of suicide, hours of housework/childrearing, rates of imprisonment/poverty, percentages of c-level spots or political office holders, rates of attrition in an (your) industry.

there are a ton of arguments to be had within those studies but the question of how to even possibly begin to address i mean my heavens *fans self*-- you would have to pay zero attention to these issues if you don't at least know how minority populations would begin to make comparisons even if you disagreed.
posted by twist my arm at 2:16 PM on January 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


Deoridhe: The study of gender and the Darwin Awards (the "male idiot theory" example) is so poorly designed in terms of generalization that I'm astonished.

It appeared on the BMJ's Christmas edition, which as everyone knows, has scholarly articles on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the effects of martinis on James Bond's liver.
posted by sukeban at 3:45 PM on January 3, 2015


That's a huge relief. I was so confused.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:17 PM on January 3, 2015


Apologies for the late response to these responses to my earlier comment.

en forme de poire: MisantropicPainforest wasn't even singling out anyone in particular in the comment you're responding to, though.

I'm sorry but I don't see how it can be read that way. MisantropicPainforest's comment specifically replied to the big lizard's description of his own experience, read stuff into it that wasn't there, and acted like his extrapolations were somehow a fact.

emptythought: Nah, it really is what's up here though. If this guy is putting his eggs in this basket, he's actively taking the side of people who basically get mad that they don't know how to operate the sex vending machines which are obviously unfairly distributing this valuable resource.

Well, apparently one can make MA's reading true 'by association'!

This is why it took me so long to respond to these comments. If people take themselves to have a license to outright make shit up about people, including other direct participants in the conversation, and then reliably have others step in to defend them when called out on it, the discussion is very effectively sabotaged. This would be true for any subject, but this is a particularly sensitive one.

I would hope to have a good conversation on this issue, but I've been frankly dismayed to find out that here it really seems to be impossible.
posted by Anything at 6:17 AM on January 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Anything: This is why it took me so long to respond to these comments. If people take themselves to have a license to outright make shit up about people, including other direct participants in the conversation, and then reliably have others step in to defend them when called out on it, the discussion is very effectively sabotaged. This would be true for any subject, but this is a particularly sensitive one.

The worst of it was deleted by the mods; what remains is bad enough. There's a fair few people above who appear to be bringing every bad experience they've ever had or even heard about regarding "nerds" into this thread and projecting them onto the protagonists.
posted by pharm at 7:33 AM on January 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd be really amazed if every person in this thread couldn't be classed as a "nerd".

Many of us are female though, which might account for the category error.
posted by winna at 9:35 AM on January 4, 2015 [12 favorites]


Yes, the discussion here is pretty low quality: I said that when I was an awkward geek, I placed relationships (by which I meant romantic ones, obviously I had women friends) on a pedestal, and people go off on one about how nerds want to learn to operate the sex dispensers. Everything is rounded to the nearest cliche about nerds (or even gamers, who aren't the group under discussion).

The comments over on Alexander's blog are generally higher quality than here and I'd recommend reading them as a sort of unicorn chaser after reading this thread. (OK, so there are the occasional outright misogynists posting there, but generally they get rebutted from orbit: I enjoyed the description of r/redpill's attitude as "women are defectbots so we should learn to defect too", a reference to the strategies in the Prisoner's Dilemma). Looking at the contributions from women: I recommend searching for SJW from Hell, Sarah and ozymandias (I think I'm OK including ozy with the woman as they describe themself as such in said comments).

I was particularly impressed by Sarah's comment about "the sanction of the victim": if you want to be good, you're tremendously vulnerable to people who propose extremes of self-sacrifice. If you run into some feminist stuff and want to be good and tend to take things seriously (as officer_fred said above), you're vulnerable to a bunch of people who care about their cause more than you. Of course, this is also true of their counterparts on the other end of the spectrum, as arthur spotted.
posted by pw201 at 10:02 AM on January 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


(by which I meant romantic ones, obviously I had women friends)

Why is it obvious? Not snarky, serious. A lot of shy/nerdy guys don't have women friends (especially as teenagers), and that is part of the difficulty; so to me, the "obviously" is not at all that.
posted by rtha at 10:29 AM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you run into some feminist stuff and want to be good and tend to take things seriously (as officer_fred said above), you're vulnerable to a bunch of people who care about their cause more than you.

Yes, but this is exactly where I see the weird entitlement thing happening. Feminists should care more about women's issues than men's. By definition. That's the whole point of feminism.

Individual women in Aaronson's life should maybe, depending on his relationship with them, care more about Aaronson's problems and experiences than about feminism in general. But derailing a movement working to end women's oppression by men and asking it to focus on men's problems instead doesn't make any sense.

On a human level, I'm really very sorry for what Aaronson went through. It sounds like he suffered a great deal, and he didn't deserve that. If he had shown up in my therapy office, I would have been happy to work with him on his unhappiness and anxiety. On a "How Feminism Should Work" level, however, Aaronson's experiences aren't super-relevant.

There seem to be a lot of boys and men who say variations on "Here's why my life is/was horrible. It's Feminism's fault, and Feminism needs to fix that!" and when feminists say, "Well, no, that's not really feminism's fault, and fixing that aspect of human interaction is not really what feminism is about," we get treated like the Withholding Mother. That backlash seems premised on really weird ideas about feminism, though.
posted by jaguar at 10:30 AM on January 4, 2015 [23 favorites]


The systemic, not masculine enough pain many men feel is caused by sexism, and a society where men compete with other men on the basis of their access to objects like women.

A shocking number of men blame their experiences on women, and specifically on feminism.

The cause is actually sexism. The cure is engaging with masculinity consciously and actively, doing the same with femininity, and then hitting a point where one neither mistakes men for masculine, nor women for feminine.

It's easier to complain about how women have thoughts and opinions, though.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:51 AM on January 4, 2015 [15 favorites]


Reading lesswrong usually makes my teeth ache but "rounded to the nearest cliché" is a great line.
posted by pharm at 10:53 AM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Everything is rounded to the nearest cliche about nerds (or even gamers, who aren't the group under discussion).

You have yet to address that many many of the comments in this thread have pointed out that it's not only men who are nerds and that such a criticism destroys the arguments you and Alexander are making about "nerds" being oppressed by feminists. But feel free to keep talking past us as if we weren't here - as a woman in STEM who was programming from an early age I'm certainly used to it.
posted by winna at 12:08 PM on January 4, 2015 [13 favorites]


pw201: Yes, the discussion here is pretty low quality: I said that when I was an awkward geek, I placed relationships (by which I meant romantic ones, obviously I had women friends) on a pedestal, and people go off on one about how nerds want to learn to operate the sex dispensers.

It's almost as if we nerd girls hadn't got stories to tell and first-hand experience with Nice Guys.

I was in the tabletop RPG club in engineering college, and on geeky interest usenet and internet forums since the mid-90s. I just don't want to talk about my own awkward adolescence, but believe me, we know nerdery. And nerd guys.
posted by sukeban at 12:11 PM on January 4, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think winna has it exactly right. Most of us ladies are in fact nerds. But it's much easier for defensive male nerds to think of us as simply bullies, who hate nerds, rather than admit our critiques are valid.
posted by corb at 2:06 PM on January 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


When you act like a bully, you get taken for one. So if you call people names, lean on lazy stereotypes to make your point, denigrate entire genders, and show no compassion for those who disagree with you, you are going to get pushback.

This is why people are rightfully dismissive of #gamergaters who use "journalistic ethics" as a cover for rampant misogyny.

I have certainly experienced some nasty sexism from guys who were nerds. I have also experienced great friendships and, come to that, a marriage lasting over 25 years now. My husband? Totally a nerd. Me, I'm a nerd. Our kids are nerds.

According to this thread, in my family, three out of four of us are reprehensible simply by virtue of their gender. That's an ugly, sexist position to take, not a valid critical stance.

You can say that you are all about fighting misogyny, but it sounds as empty as those gamer gators crying "journalistic ethics" when every 'point' you make is just a bitter swipe at male nerds, most of which have nothing to do with the actual content of the links from this post.
posted by misha at 3:04 PM on January 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


According to this thread, in my family, three out of four of us are reprehensible simply by virtue of their gender. That's an ugly, sexist position to take, not a valid critical stance.

You have made this up. Literally no one has said this, as far as I read.
posted by PMdixon at 3:07 PM on January 4, 2015 [29 favorites]


I see we've circled back around to #notallnerds.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:22 PM on January 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


So if you call people names, lean on lazy stereotypes to make your point, denigrate entire genders, and show no compassion for those who disagree with you, you are going to get pushback.

Like how Aaronson calls some kinds of men Neanderthals.
posted by rtha at 3:42 PM on January 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think winna has it exactly right. Most of us ladies are in fact nerds. But it's much easier for defensive male nerds to think of us as simply bullies, who hate nerds, rather than admit our critiques are valid.

Agreed. And instead of seeing us as nerds first (ie: people before gender), they see us as females first and get stuck up on all the (untrue) ways females hamper them getting what they want. They don't even get to the point of seeing us as nerds. I don't know why. Maybe our lady bosoms block their vision...
posted by Kerasia at 3:50 PM on January 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


When you act like a bully, you get taken for one. So if you call people names, lean on lazy stereotypes to make your point, denigrate entire genders, and show no compassion for those who disagree with you, you are going to get pushback.

But you do this to feminists all the time.

According to this thread, in my family, three out of four of us are reprehensible simply by virtue of their gender. That's an ugly, sexist position to take, not a valid critical stance.

You just did it again: Yet another reminder that you think we -- sometimes feminists in general, but usually specifically feminists on MetaFilter, apparent monolith that we are -- are a bunch of very literal man-haters.

You can say that you are all about fighting misogyny, but it sounds as empty as those gamer gators crying "journalistic ethics" when every 'point' you make is just a bitter swipe at male nerds, most of which have nothing to do with the actual content of the links from this post.

And again, with a patently ridiculous assertion that our stated desire for gender equality is disingenuous at best and knowingly misleading at worst (since what we're really lobbying for is male oppression) because, I guess, we're bitter about nerdy dudes (?). You accuse us of bona fide misandry even after many of us have spoken and continue to speak with great love and admiration of our many male acquaintances, friends, relatives, boyfriends, partners, husbands, sons, nephews, co-workers, etc. You talk about how awesome it is that you're so different from other feminists because you're a feminist who doesn't hate men, I guess as opposed to the rest of us? You insult us like this over and over again, ignoring every and anything we say that contradicts your opinion of us, and you just start making stuff up -- stuff like "According to this thread, in my family, three out of four of us are reprehensible simply by virtue of their gender" -- as soon as you feel like you're on the losing side of an argument.

It's always been easy for me to dismiss this lazy stereotyping of feminists as man-haters as a sad diversionary tactic with all the sophistication of pointing at the sky and screaming, "Hey, look over there!" But it still really bums me out because I think comments that suggest your point of view on the matter is based in reality are antithetical to compassion and conversation between men and women as human beings. And on a personal level, I think you're much better than that, much too smart to start inventing straw feminists to attack whenever the reality of actual feminist lives and experiences don't align with yours; honestly, I don't get it, and probably never will. Overall, it's just been a really weird thing to see happen repeatedly in a discussion forum that prides itself on forming opinions based on actual evidence and the pursuit thereof, but it still doesn't surprise me to see it pop up again here.

With that said, I'm confident that you can take it as read from this point on that feminist women (and men) on MeFi know that you think we're a bunch of man-hating man-haters, so you probably don't need to pop in to lob that particular bomb at us nearly as often as you do.
posted by divined by radio at 4:14 PM on January 4, 2015 [25 favorites]


But I don't think all feminists are man-haters, at all. I think Laura Penney's post was good. I think people willing to engage about the specifics, like rtha, made some excellent points.

I don't think all feminists in Mefi are man-haters, either. I do think that this thread has not exactly shown some of them at their best, because of the sweeping generalizations they have been making. Some of the most active voices for feminism on the site, unfortunately, tend to go to extremes that do not do feminism as a whole any favors. They drown out the more moderate voices on the site with those extremes. I think the pushback in this thread is a response to that kind of negativity.

It is those sweeping generalizations which I specifically called out. I explained a couple times, in different comments, how my lived experience is in direct conflict with those negative stereotypes that kept being trotted out.

Then I responded to a comment specifically complaining that nerd guys see women criticizing them as bullies rather than acknowledging their claims were valid, by saying that I don't see the argument for them being valid, but I do see behavior I would associate with bullying and sexism within this thread,mand how that makes me feel.

That is not me 'doing' anything to feminists, it is me calling out problematic behavior. If you are not one of the people saying, "nerd guys do this, Amerite?" then I am not in any way singling you out as part of the problem.

Calling me out personally does not exactly make the point that you are not engaging in bullying behavior, either.
posted by misha at 5:01 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Seriously misha, please think about what divined by radio is saying. I honestly can't imagine any of us hate men. I know I don't.

My father was the one who encouraged my love of science. He took me to the library, bought me my first computer, my telescope, shared his love of the natural world with me. He was the only human being who loved me for most of my life. He was a great father and I wish everyone had a daddy like mine. He valued me even though he grew up in a tradition that viewed women as inferior, and it is because of his example and expectations that taught me I was not less than because I was born female. I have a number of male friends who value me as a person and who don't treat me differently because I'm female. We play games together and enthuse about technical things and science and books and Star Wars and Cthulhu. I don't hate men. What I hate is bullshit that keeps me shut out of places that would benefit from me being there and from which I would benefit because of ridiculous ideas about the role of women in the world, ideas that may not have originated in those circles but certainly don't appear to be less common there than anywhere else in the world. I refuse to be an object. I refuse to let people ignore that I and all the women like me exist and that we deserve equal recognition as human.

I have no earthly idea why you persist in pretending that women who push back against ideas that keep us from fully participating in the world (and yes, women are still not considered fully human in all respects and I don't think we ever will be considered as such in my lifetime) hate men, because it's such an absurd cheap reason that doesn't even make sense. But it does let you write us all off as bullies and you don't have to think about what we're actually saying, so that saves time I guess.

I'm not ever going to be nice about the idea that feminists just naturally hate nerds, which is where a lot of my disdain in this instance is centered. It is pathetic to make that assumption the centerpiece of an argument about who is really suffering when a straight white man writes an article because a straight white man harassed several young women and the first man is afraid that he can't ever talk to ladies again because women aren't like normal people (read men for normal). It is absolutely pathetic to pretend that in a world in which women are right now being harassed out of their houses with violent threats for the crime of being female and having opinions about video games that male nerds are some kind of oppressed class. And if forcefully expressing that opinion makes me a bully well then where are my horns and my matador.
posted by winna at 5:06 PM on January 4, 2015 [20 favorites]


> It is those sweeping generalizations which I specifically called out.

If this is what you mean by specific then we have different definitions:

> According to this thread,

Because that is not at all specific.

But I reckon this is straying into meTa or memail territory so I'm gonna go back to my cold-fighting tea-and-rye and try to stay the fuck out of this thread anymore.
posted by rtha at 5:13 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


If someone has not accused you of hatred, why claim that they have? If someone has not said they hate something or someone, why attribute hatred to them? If you find avoiding these behaviors difficult, and insist on diagnosing hatred where it was not intended or expressed (it's not an act, it's an intention), it might give an audience of careful readers reason to doubt your bona fides. If you tend not to notice such rhetorical escalations, you may be here for the pep rally more than the reasoned discussion.
posted by perhapsolutely at 5:24 PM on January 4, 2015


Most men accused of hating women find the idea ridiculous too. It's an awkward way to categorize thoughts that are often much more complex than that.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:56 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't get us.

1. The thread is a link to a response by Laurie Penny, which is superb.

2. The first comment links to Scott Aaronson's blog post, to which Penny was responding.

3. This thread has become a series of fights about how bad Aaronson is, and posts that empathize with Aaronson or express charitable readings of his post are immediately attacked.

4. How is it that the only acceptable use of this thread is to further condemn and vilify Aaronson? How is it that this thread can only do that? Is that something we like?

As for me, well, I find Aaronson's views awful in a nearly all possible ways, and if I were to write a response to his blog post (which I wouldn't), it would undoubtedly be less generous and edifying than Penny's. But that's why someone was inspired to post Penny's response--because it is so remarkable.

And yet here we are, fighting with each other, doing all the things Penny seems to be trying to resist and counteract.

Makes me think of this, I guess.

Hugs & lovin' for all a y'all.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:00 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


This thread has become a series of fights about how bad Aaronson is, and posts that empathize with Aaronson or express charitable readings of his post are immediately attacked.


Laurie Penny's post empathizes with Aaronson and it got 133 favorites! I linked to some of my blog posts which empathize with Aaronson, and they didn't get 133 favorites but people didn't attack me for it. It's obviously an "acceptable" use of the thread.

I feel like Penny's take on this, which is roughly "Aaronson is a victim of sexism and enjoys privileges from sexism at the same time, which Aaronson seems to suggest is a contradiction, but it isn't" would be agreed to by 90% of the posters in this thread. To say that isn't vilifying him, it's just a claim that he's incorrect about something.
posted by escabeche at 7:54 PM on January 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yeah and it's good to hear you articulate that. But you mention links and feelings whereas I'm talking about the posts in this thread. Still, thanks.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:07 PM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


misha: When you act like a bully, you get taken for one. So if you call people names, lean on lazy stereotypes to make your point, denigrate entire genders, and show no compassion for those who disagree with you, you are going to get pushback.

I've been one of the loudest voices in this thread. Please, quote the parts of my posts where I have done any of the reprehensible things you are accusing me of here.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:00 PM on January 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


If anyone felt hurt by my words, that was not my intent, and I apologize. I have no personal grudge against anyone in this thread. I just get upset by so much negativity. I need to remind myself more often that feminism can be a big tent, and to keep that in mind instead of viewing those whose attitudes clash with mine in an adversarial light. I do appreciate hearing from other women sharing their stories of men who get it right, and would like to see more of that and less of the negativity, so I will try harder to be the change I want to see in my own commenting.

I'm going back to focusing on the positive myself, and just want to say thanks to prizebulloctorok for linking Laurie Penny's post. I also really got a lot out of the discussions over on Alexander's blog, and I'm glad that was linked here as well.

Even though I got frustrated with some of the comments here, I would like to read more links related to feminism which come from a place of empathy. I don't think this post editorialized at all, either, and I appreciated that, too. Speaking just for myself, I can find more than enough outrage and drama from the rest of the Internet. I come here more for interesting discussions than activism.

As far as the thread, I read everyone's comments and found out a lot about how you all think, which is a positive, too. If we didn't agree--well, I hope l at least gave you an alternative perspective to ponder, too.
posted by misha at 10:29 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I like a lot of male nerds. I just got home from smooching one. It's a hell of a time wading though all the sexually harassing, entitled cruft who think they understand everything about the world already and are dismissive as hell about what they haven't deigned to learn, which often includes fun stuff like "how to treat women like people". As a bonus, these terrible nerd manbabies are incapable of shutting the fuck up. Aaronson's piece is totally the kind of thing that only encourages these assholes to never learn anything and claim they're being bullied anytime they get called on their shit, and they are likely to get away with that, because they live in a patriarchal structure that allows them to succeed even if they never figure out that part of acting like a goddamn grown-up. That's right: no one here actually hates men, but even if we did, we don't have the structural power to do anything about it in the way men can damage women, because that is what patriarchy means. I'm not sure what's up with misha trying to throw the "man-hating" wrench in the works here, because I know she's been in enough of these threads to get the 101 on the power/privilege thing and what that means. I'm used to seeing that from total newbies to feminism.
posted by NoraReed at 12:09 AM on January 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


[Okay, guys, here's yet another reminder at the tail end of yet another feminism/sexism thread to take the meta discussion to Metatalk, and to focus comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site.]
posted by taz at 1:37 AM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Penny's piece and the discussion around it remind me of the 2003 Paul Graham essay about why nerds are unpopular which a lot of people in my circle (myself included) seemed to identify with back when it was written, despite some criticism of the tone of the piece. (It was also discussed on Metafilter, though I wasn't here yet.)

I went and reread it just now and it does display some of the same problematic thinking that was brought up early in this thread. It's not a perfect analogy, since Graham was talking specifically about high school popularity as a metric rather than constructive interpersonal relations in general, but the notion that there might be a set of rules that would allow one to succeed or fail based on rule adherence (rather than interpersonal success being subjective and complex) is there:
Why don't smart kids make themselves popular? If they're so smart, why don't they figure out how popularity works and beat the system, just as they do for standardized tests?
I wonder how common this thinking is among nerds. Vague associations with guess/ask or sensing/intuiting dichotomies. Something to ponder.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:43 AM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Graham piece seems to acknowledge that popularity is a skill that needs to be developed, though, rather than just something that happens. I'm not sure if I agree with that entirely in regards to popularity, but I think it's certainly true of social skills. And I suspect that if someone said, "Programming is hard and confusing and difficult and I'm not sure I'll do well in classes or a career. I wish someone would just hand me a programming job without my having to learn how to do it!" people would rightly tell them to take classes, read books, practice on their own, and gain the training and experience necessary to achieve their goals. Which is pretty much how it works for social skills, too.
posted by jaguar at 10:54 AM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


And I suspect that if someone said, "Programming is hard and confusing and difficult and I'm not sure I'll do well in classes or a career. I wish someone would just hand me a programming job without my having to learn how to do it!" people would rightly tell them to take classes, read books, practice on their own, and gain the training and experience necessary to achieve their goals. Which is pretty much how it works for social skills, too.

Oh, yes, this! We send kids off to school with the expectation that 1) they need to learn stuff like reading and math, 2) that someone will teach them, and 3) that they will practice and practice until they are competent in the subject. Imagine if kids were just expected to know how to read, write, or calculate from the get-go, or if not, that their parents or peers would somehow teach them.

I think there are real problems with the idea that social skills are somehow innate or a matter of luck instead of something that can be developed with practice. You don't just hand a kid a math textbook and say "here, learn!" Some people are lucky in that social skills come naturally to them and/or they have socially skilled families and friends willing to teach them. Most people have to learn by trial and error, and, hopefully, pick up enough skills to get them through the world without too much trauma.

We do a real disservice to kids with this attitude. I wish social skills were taught in an organized fashion just as we teach other skills, instead of leaving it up to families and peers. Sure, some people are probably born better than others - just as some people have natural musical talent - but, just as with music, a certain basic ability can be taught and achieved with practice. Just as one might not be a Mozart but can still play for pleasure, one might not be a natural social butterfly but, through good teaching and practice, be socially skilled enough to have friends and relationships.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:23 AM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


We do a real disservice to kids with this attitude. I wish social skills were taught in an organized fashion just as we teach other skills, instead of leaving it up to families and peers.

Be careful what you wish for - you just might get it....Or at least, I had years of this sort of thing in junior high and high school and it was godawful. Partly because social skills don't respond to the sort of teaching techniques that you use for math; partly because it was impossible to teach the class outside of the rest of the hierarchy and social violence of school, so it was just as bad; partially because the type of people who wanted to teach those classes - in my school, at the time; it may be different now - were conformist, unimaginative and had this weird bourgeois-morality-panglossian understanding of social skills; and partly because, as all the students knew that the regular social violence of school was not really in abeyance, you had both to appear to participate "correctly" in the class (I have done a "trust fall" with some people who were physically threatening to me outside of class, for instance) and you had to participate in such a way that it did not increase your vulnerability in the regular school setting.

I think that figuring out what "social skills" really are is much more difficult than it appears - it's so culture-bound and tied up in morality and class aspiration, and so actually teaching them is much trickier than teaching math, etc.

posted by Frowner at 11:32 AM on January 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


Junior high seems way late for that sort of program as I imagine it.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:39 AM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


For people who are struggling, social skills are best taught individually or in a small, highly-curated group after individual teaching and trust has built between student and teacher. I'm in the process now of doing a lot of social skills training for one of my clients because he is learning how to make boundaries and what boundaries are reasonable and healthy for him, and so I often give feedback of my half of our interaction and my analysis of what's going on with other people. It wouldn't work in a group, though, or without the years of trust we've built up.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:04 PM on January 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


A lot of socially awkward nerds, male and female, were helplessly floundering for years.

In today's climate, there are several campaigns for helping girls to be confident and empowered, and that's great! I think there should be even more.

There are very few campaigns for empowering socially awkward boys, though. The assumption is they don't need help because men have all the advantages. But the rate of suicide among young men is scary high. Certainly we have heard enough voices saying how tough adolescence was for everyone that we should err on the side of compassion.

Rather than tell them that women have it worse--even if it is true!--feminists should be reaching out to those boys. Instead of labelling them as entitled, potentially objectifying oppressors, they should be working with them to make sure that their sense of alienation does not focus itself on feminism.

Not because women have to be responsible for men's hurt feelings, but because the goal is for no one to have to suffer through those feelings at all.

Also, because children tend to live up to--or down to--your expectations of them.
posted by misha at 2:01 PM on January 5, 2015


For what it's worth, I don't think there are a lot of programs aimed at empowering socially awkward girls. In fact, I think that most experts tend to assume that girls are pretty socially adept and to ignore the existence of socially awkward girls. Programs aimed at girls usually address problems other than social awkwardness. Girls are seen to be shy or lacking in confidence but not to have problems interpreting social cues or understanding the rules of social engagement. I think that in general, socially awkward kids don't get a ton of social support, and it may actually be worse for girls, because issues like ADD and autism spectrum disorders are under-diagnosed in girls.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:10 PM on January 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


Rather than tell them that women have it worse--even if it is true!--feminists should be reaching out to those boys. Instead of labelling them as entitled, potentially objectifying oppressors, they should be working with them to make sure that their sense of alienation does not focus itself on feminism.

Someone should be reaching out to those boys, yes. Women who are feminists can certainly be among those doing so (and probably already are -- I have had jobs doing just that). But there is absolutely no real reason that socializing alienated boys should be a big feminist goal.
posted by jaguar at 2:19 PM on January 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm with you for most of that misha, but it should not be assigned as a task for feminists. It's a task for parents and educators and everybody involved in raising those boys.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:24 PM on January 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


You may be right, ArbitraryandCapricious. Most of the programs are against bullying, which are necessary too, but not really the same as social skills. Good point.

Educators and parents and pretty much any adult can be feminists. I am a little disheartened that helping boys is something not many feminists seem willing to take on.
posted by misha at 2:42 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


feminists have a long list of important issues to take on. I'm disheartened that young boys don't have the social advocates that I feel they need. I'm not disheartened that it is not a priority for feminism.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:56 PM on January 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


Patriarchy hurts men and women alike, but feminists will naturally prioritize girls' problems over boys', just as they prioritize women's over men's, because patriarchy hurts women much more sharply than it hurts men. I suspect ArbitraryAndCapricious is right, and the broader societal problem falls on boys and girls alike. For this reason, it's odd to hold it against feminists in particular for failing to help socially awkward boys.

On preview, Drinky Die said it better.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:07 PM on January 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am a little disheartened that helping boys is something not many feminists seem willing to take on.

Why? Why in the world would you assume this is a feminist's job? Why in the world would you assume that, once again, women need to subdue their own needs and the needs of girls in order to once again prioritize men, and we should call that feminism?
posted by corb at 3:49 PM on January 5, 2015 [23 favorites]


I am so very tired of threads turning into the "but refusing to give men all the benefit of the doubt means you owe them even more benefit of the doubt" show.
posted by E. Whitehall at 4:13 PM on January 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


Why? Why in the world would you assume this is a feminist's job? Why in the world would you assume that, once again, women need to subdue their own needs and the needs of girls in order to once again prioritize men, and we should call that feminism?

I don't assume that. I think girls and boys both need more support, like I wrote, and I am gratified that there are some programs for that, like jaguar mentions. I am disheartened that, right away, people felt the need to distance themselves from the boys with issues, instead of just seeing them all as kids and having more of an "it takes a village" kind of attitude.

I have volunteered with schools and programs for kids for years. My husband coached (co-Ed) soccer as an unpaid volunteer for years, too. We have both been very involved in not just our sons' lives, but their friends and acquaintances, male and female. One of their friends was suicidally depressed for a while, got into drugs, and having family issues. We helped him get back in school while he stayed in our house for a month. We've provided room, board and meals, served as references. We've worked with kids to make sure they got the financial aid they were entitled to when their parents didn't understand the process. One girl couldn't get her credits transferred towards her degree (she was also my son's EX girlfriend, but hey, she needed our help), and we drove five hours to meet with the dean personally and got her enrolled.

And almost every year, we have taken groups of these kids on weeklong hiking trips in the mountains, picking up the whole tab, when before that some of them had never even ventured out of the state before.

This is not just lip service. It's important to me! I am personally invested. I really care about kids. I know what it is like to be a depressed kid and contemplate suicide. I want to help. I wish I could help them all.
posted by misha at 9:16 PM on January 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's great, and I'm honestly glad you do that. Maybe you could leave off lecturing people you think aren't doing enough or aren't doing it the right way. Just do what you think needs doing; invite people in your life to come along and do the thing with you. If other people are doing different things - good things, constructive things - in different ways with different people, it doesn't have to be your job to lecture them that they should be doing some other thing. If you feel defensive that other people are vocal about not doing what you're doing, so what? Let them talk. Go do your thing.
posted by rtha at 9:27 PM on January 5, 2015 [17 favorites]


misha, you seem to do a weird thing where you conflate feminists and feminism.

Feminists do a lot of different things, in all sorts of different fields, and we often bring our feminists ideals into play in order to make those various fields better.

Feminism, as a movement, is focused on women's oppression. It is a disservice to women to insist that feminism, as a movement, should stop focusing on women.

Individual feminists can focus on all sorts of things. Feminism as a movement should not.
posted by jaguar at 10:00 PM on January 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


Yeah, you're probably right, rtha. Sorry if I got too preachy.
posted by misha at 10:06 PM on January 5, 2015


I want to come back to this comment by the big lizard and some responses to it, this by Deoridhe in particular.

the big lizard: Many boys with poor socialization skills also regularly fail at interacting with other boys. It just has slightly lower emotional stakes for straight boys, because other boys are not potential love interests for them. And giving a lot of emotional weight to reactions from crushes is not unique to boys (or straight people) either. Almost all kids get hurt when someone they have a crush on rejects them. Being people (for both girls and boys) does not mean that it's impossible for another kid to have a crush on them.

Deoridhe: Assuming the girl/woman of a boy/man's choice is a priori a potential love interest is putting the cart several leagues before the horse. It's also part of the problem.

Treating all girls or women as potential love interests is part of not treating us as people; it's part of treating us as gatekeepers for love/sex which are available given the thoughts and desires of the man/boy in the room. That is, it is treating girls/women as objects, not as people.


I suspect there's multiple levels of miscommunication here about what big lizard means about 'girls as potential love interests'. I'm not sure if he cares to still follow the thread at this point, so I'll just work from what might be assumed.

First of all, I think there are two distinct matters to be discussed, one where one might use 'potential' in a weak sense, i.e. referring to the matter that it may come about that, for example, a boy sees something from a girl that looks like it might be flirtatious, and he starts wondering if it was and then possibly develops a crush and doesn't know what to do about it. In this sense, a huge number of girls are indeed 'potential love interests' to our hypothetical boy, and I don't know what to say if someone indeed thinks that makes him an entitled sex creep in the making.

Then there's the matter with a stronger sense of 'potential' where we're talking about a girl or girls who the boy indeed already is romantically curious about. One problem I've had with a lot of the comments is that people seem to both a) be talking about this stronger sense and also b) be jumping to assumptions that are absurd to me, that Aaronson or big lizard or me or whoever have in our youth been crushing on or looking to approach girls left and right and all over the place.

I just don't understand where this comes from. That's not how I was at all, but when I did crush on someone, my social awkwardness and the confusing advice I had gotten made things all the worse.

Another serious problem I have with many of these comments is the loosely thrown assertion that someone like myself 'didn't treat girls as people' -- like they had no agency and were interchangeable. Honestly, that's a destructive and just plain stupid message to send. You can be curious about or have a crush on someone and still treat them perfectly fine -- though indeed what you need to take care of is to be considerate!

Here's the thing, though: I'm an adult who's quite able to read your comments critically and to defend myself and others who get shat on in a thread like this. But a confused thirteen-year-old who doesn't quite have the years of argument behind him and hears the same (even in a milder form) from an adult he happens to trust to have his best interest in mind may just take his or her word for it and end up just desperately lost.

I've been there.
posted by Anything at 12:50 AM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


And another thing is that to the extent that such bad advice comes from an (ill-considered) feminist motivation, rather than, merely e.g. frustrating personal experiences with inconsiderate boys and men, that is indeed an issue feminists as a movement cannot just shrug off.
posted by Anything at 12:59 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Also, enormous kudos to misha for such volunteer work!)
posted by Anything at 1:41 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I should clarify that I don't view Deoridhe herself as having quite 'shat on' anyone here. Her comment merely happened to be in reply to someone who did get attacked by others in a way that I found completely unjustifiable.
posted by Anything at 2:11 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Epicurian Dealmaker on Nerd Intersectionality.
posted by pharm at 3:01 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Rather than tell them that women have it worse--even if it is true!--feminists should be reaching out to those boys. Instead of labelling them as entitled, potentially objectifying oppressors, they should be working with them to make sure that their sense of alienation does not focus itself on feminism.

I am a little disheartened that helping boys is something not many feminists seem willing to take on.


Why don't civil rights groups spend more of their time and energy on mental health reform?
Why don't disability advocates spend more of their time and energy on famine relief?
Why don't environmentalists spend more of their time and energy advocating for LGBT rights?

Sometimes you have to put your own oxygen mask on first. The reason it's called "feminism" is because the focus is on establishing equality through creating equal access and opportunity for females.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:11 AM on January 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


Doc NL weighs in on the issue. I rather like his summation:

OK, I’m going to say this with all sincerity to Aaronson and other nerds and Nice Guys: I’m sorry you were bullied. I’m sorry you may find relationships scary and confusing. I’m sorry you may not have the instinctual social ease that others may have. I’ve been there, I have done that and I’ve got the emotional scars to prove it. I understand that trying to figure out how to get better at dating can be confounding, frustrating and intimidating – that’s the whole reason why I created this site.

So with that being said: build a bridge and get the fuck over it.

Being bullied doesn’t make you right, or better or morally superior. Being a nerd doesn’t mean that you’re holy. Just because you’re a geek doesn’t mean that you aren’t also an asshole. Being socially awkward isn’t an excuse and trying to play the Oppression Olympics doesn’t make it any better. No, life isn’t fair, it never has been fair and the sooner you stop expecting that fairness to apply to you, the sooner you’ll be able to improve.

Yes, we live in a society that tells men and women conflicting rules about sex and sexuality and that can be confusing. Yes, the rules about boundaries and consent are changing and we’re all trying to shake off generations of toxic lessons about gender and sexuality and it can be weird, confusing and intimidating. But blaming feminists for scaring you, bullies for bullying you or neanderthals for taking what you “deserve” isn’t progress, it’s whining. Stop blaming others for what, at the end of the day, are your choices. You and you alone are responsible for your life and to make it better.

It’s time to stop talking about fairness and niceness. It’s time to be good. It’s time to be strong.

It’s time to build your new life.

posted by NoxAeternum at 10:38 AM on January 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


Why don't civil rights groups spend more of their time and energy on mental health reform?...Sometimes you have to put your own oxygen mask on first. The reason it's called "feminism" is because the focus is on establishing equality through creating equal access and opportunity for females.

Personally, I sometimes think that civil rights groups could do well to consider society-wide mental health issues -- I think there's gotta be some mental health component to certain kinds of discrimination. And I suspect that many specific feminist issues are even less tenuously connected to how society treats men.

I don't know. I certainly recognize that people are always going to have issues they identify with because they have more direct motivating experience with them, and there's a matter of practical focus. I don't really want anyone to stop working on the particulars they're working on.

But if the primary way we mobilize to solve structural social issues is one identity group at a time, we're going to be waiting longer time for a just society. And the concept of privilege founded on empathy can be bigger than that.
posted by weston at 11:10 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


And the ways in which those issues intersect and overlap whichever cause need to be addressed, but "Anti-racism movements should pay attention to the way in which racial discrimination enhances the stigma against being mentally ill (or vice versa)" is asking anti-racism activists to be comprehensive in the ways that racism affects people of color, many of whom also have mental illnesses. "Feminists should pay attention to ostracized boys" is not asking feminists to pay attention to the various ways misogyny affects women in various situations but instead to pay attention to men.
posted by jaguar at 11:42 AM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean, I think it's more akin to asking why anti-racism groups don't pay more attention to improving health care access for white people in poverty. White people in poverty deserve much better healthcare access, but it's not an anti-racist goal and it would be silly to write off anti-racist activists for not focusing on it.
posted by jaguar at 11:44 AM on January 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


Or, I guess, to blame Malcom X for not addressing it.
posted by jaguar at 11:46 AM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


That NerdLove article is really good.

Since geeks love rules, I'd suggest a rule of thumb: articulating your pain is good, creating conspiracy theories is bad.

Looking at a couple of the comments on Nerdlove's article:

Empirically, it seems many women, especially young women, would rather date or hook up with a man who isn't as nice and respectful as he should be but does have the latter package or traits rather than a nice respectful guy who is shy, introverted, sensitive, timid, and nervous [...]

It can sure seem that way when you're a frustrated 17-year-old. But note that it's a theory about women, something the writer doesn't know from his own experience, despite his attempt to dress it up with "empirically". You move from Good Geek to Bad Geek when you start making up theories about why "women" won't date you.

(In this particular case, recall Occam's Razor. Nerdlove's point is that those other guys may well have dates because they asked. Also, to repeat a point made by the OP and many people since, shy geeky guys should think harder about shy geeky girls.)

Or this one: Especially a extremely intelligent guy like the one in this example, is born to be very attractive to women. So the lesser gifted men have no choice but break him emotionally.

This one has a theory about women (they must be attracted to people like the writer!) and a theory about bullies, pulled out of the writer's nether regions. The tragicomic thing here is that he assumes that the bullies share his own high self-regard— they dislike him only because he's so smart. Perhaps he's never noticed that bullies can pick almost any reason to harass someone.

Being shy and feeling unloved really suck. Those feelings are real and no one can take them away from you. But be careful about what stories you tell yourself about why you're in that position. If it turns into a complaint about "women", you may be on the road to Bad Geek.

Or if that makes you feel too bad, look at it this way: what can you change? "Women"? Or yourself?
posted by zompist at 11:48 AM on January 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


Especially a extremely intelligent guy like the one in this example, is born to be very attractive to women. So the lesser gifted men have no choice but break him emotionally.

I do not normally lol, but I lol'd. Yes indeed, this lines up very well with the lives of the straight men of my acquaintance, both the popular and the non-. They're constantly evaluating each other on their intelligence, conspiring to break each other emotionally, etc etc. It's like a non-stop fanfic, basically, except without the sex and with more veldt.
posted by Frowner at 11:55 AM on January 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


Since geeks love rules, I'd suggest a rule of thumb: articulating your pain is good, creating conspiracy theories is bad.

A good rule.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:57 AM on January 6, 2015


But blaming feminists for scaring you, bullies for bullying you or neanderthals for taking what you “deserve” isn’t progress, it’s whining.

Blaming bullies for bullying you, that's whining. Thanks, Mr Nerdlove, for presenting your argument with such empathy.
posted by Anything at 1:04 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I agree with that goal, too. I think it's always a better idea to speak to specific issues instead of creating conspiracy theories.

Jaguar, I don't think your analogy is at all equivalent, though. SA says that as a male nerd, he had issues with feminism. A number of feminists have stated that his perspective is skewed, feminism is not to blame, and he needs to get over himself. But they have also said that this skewed perspective is a very common one among male nerds, very frustrating to feminists, but not their responsibility to address.

In your analogy, no one is saying, "The reason I have issues with affirmative action is because I am a white person who experienced poor healthcare as a result of affirmative action." If they had, they would be wrong, of course. But if there were a lot of people who felt that way, I still think it would be in the best interests of activists to work with the Wrong People to negate that public perception and recruit them to their side instead of mocking and alienating them.

(I know we have a fundamental difference of opinion on that and aren't probably going to turn each other around here or anything and that's okay. I'm just explaining why I feel the analogy doesn't work for me personally.)
posted by misha at 1:16 PM on January 6, 2015


And considering which part of the audience can be expected to be most receptive to this particular message, I like how he splits the categories just so as to shield them from having to entertain the thought of a fair bit of this bullying having the form of shitty feminism of the Marcotte variety.

I do hope that someone finds something useful in that column. I fail to see much but the same old condescension .
posted by Anything at 1:30 PM on January 6, 2015


Jaguar, I don't think your analogy is at all equivalent, though. SA says that as a male nerd, he had issues with feminism. A number of feminists have stated that his perspective is skewed, feminism is not to blame, and he needs to get over himself. But they have also said that this skewed perspective is a very common one among male nerds, very frustrating to feminists, but not their responsibility to address.

In your analogy, no one is saying, "The reason I have issues with affirmative action is because I am a white person who experienced poor healthcare as a result of affirmative action." If they had, they would be wrong, of course. But if there were a lot of people who felt that way, I still think it would be in the best interests of activists to work with the Wrong People to negate that public perception and recruit them to their side instead of mocking and alienating them.


The thing is, we've tried that, and it doesn't actually work. And the reason it doesn't work is because this skewed perspective isn't held just because of their experiences, but as an excuse to not address their own flaws. Aaronson keeps pointing to his pain when people point out how badly flawed his worldview is, as if his suffering somehow gives him a freebie to hold retrograde views now. Hell, he outright stated that he should be commended for holding the views he does after all his pain.

In short, it's not the feminists doing the alienating here.

And considering which part of the audience can be expected to be most receptive to this particular message, I like how he splits the categories just so as to shield them from having to entertain the thought of a fair bit of this bullying having the form of shitty feminism of the Marcotte variety.

So, care to explain how she's bullying him? Again, pain is not absolution - suffering doesn't give you a free pass.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:49 PM on January 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I will say that the final message of 'it’s time to build your new life' is in itself a perfectly good one. But it's useless coming from someone who throughout the bulk of his presentation (and I'm not speaking just of this text but the site in general) treats his supposed target audience with such disdain.

And it's hardly news for someone like Aaronson in particular who's already done quite well, and all without Nerdlove's advice!
posted by Anything at 1:53 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I will say that the final message of 'it’s time to build your new life' is in itself a perfectly good one. But it's useless coming from someone who throughout the bulk of his presentation (and I'm not speaking just of this text but the site in general) treats his supposed target audience with such disdain.

So, how is he treating his audience with disdain? It's quite possible to both acknowledge that someone has suffered pain and that the source of that pain is their own beliefs.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:00 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, how is he treating his audience with disdain? It's quite possible to both acknowledge that someone has suffered pain and that the source of that pain is their own beliefs.

The barb about 'whining' about actually being bullied, the pathetic crybaby image at the top, “Look, I’m not saying I’m the center of the universe, just that everything needs to revolve around whether it’s good for my penis", etc. etc. None of this is stuff you'd find in actual good-faith advice to actual awkward nerds.

The only time I ever hear Nerdlove brought up is in discussions like this, with columns pretty much exactly like that one. I doubt I've ever heard him recommended for actual advice.
posted by Anything at 2:09 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


And considering which part of the audience can be expected to be most receptive to this particular message, I like how he splits the categories just so as to shield them from having to entertain the thought of a fair bit of this bullying having the form of shitty feminism of the Marcotte variety.
So, care to explain how she's bullying him? Again, pain is not absolution - suffering doesn't give you a free pass.
Can you point to one substantive thing in Marcotte's column that Penny didn't already go through? Most of the text consists of Marcotte putting words into Aaronsons mouth with the intent to ridicule. I agree that Aaronson's input includes things he deserves to be called out for, and I won't even blame people for using unpleasant language in doing so, but the key issue is not merely the meanness but the dishonesty; once you give yourself the license to, again, make shit up about people, you send your audience the message that anything goes. And that doesn't stop at people who don't commit Aaronson's errors, as we've seen right here in this thread.
posted by Anything at 2:33 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The barb about 'whining' about actually being bullied, the pathetic crybaby image at the top, “Look, I’m not saying I’m the center of the universe, just that everything needs to revolve around whether it’s good for my penis", etc. etc. None of this is stuff you'd find in actual good-faith advice to actual awkward nerds.

I don't know, because I think a lot of awkward nerds would benefit from having it pointed out that hey, the just world fallacy is real - because that was a really important lesson for me to learn. And if you read his advice columns, he's pretty clear on pointing this sort of stuff out.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:41 PM on January 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


And I call that 'shitty feminism', instead of stopping at 'partly shitty feminism' because the dishonest ridicule is the only thing that I see Marcotte as contributing. There it stands, shitty feminism, at a quite high profile and promoted by some in the thread, and yet we get repeated assertions basically that the feminist movement has essentially no self-examination to do on such an issue.
posted by Anything at 2:46 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know, because I think a lot of awkward nerds would benefit from having it pointed out that hey, the just world fallacy is real - because that was a really important lesson for me to learn.

And that warrants the things I listed how, exactly?

(Rhetorical question.)
posted by Anything at 3:04 PM on January 6, 2015


Anyhow I think my issues with Nerdlove are something of a derail so I think I'll bow out of that particular subject.
posted by Anything at 3:07 PM on January 6, 2015


The only time I ever hear Nerdlove brought up is in discussions like this, with columns pretty much exactly like that one. I doubt I've ever heard him recommended for actual advice.

I prefer Captain Awkward to Nerdlove, but I actually did exactly what you're claiming people don't do above.

Both sites are easy to find and read through the backlog; I can't speak to the validity of Dr Nerdlove because - again - not a reader, but Captain Awkward is awesome.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:19 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it's telling that your comment actually doesn't mention or link to Nerdlove at all.
posted by Anything at 3:24 PM on January 6, 2015


I do not normally lol, but I lol'd. Yes indeed, this lines up very well with the lives of the straight men of my acquaintance, both the popular and the non-. They're constantly evaluating each other on their intelligence, conspiring to break each other emotionally, etc etc

In a patriachial/kyriarchial society, women are not the opponent - they are the ball. In the mythological battle between jocks and nerds, women aren't the opponent, they are the ball. In the times when men complain about being "nice guys" who don't get girls while they watch "assholes" getting those same girls, women aren't the opponent, they are the ball. In the times when men complain that women just want status and money, women aren't the opponent, we're the ball. In all of these cases, women are being used as an add-on to the "wealth, status, and women" trifecta used by men to compete with other men.

Note that here women are presented as interchangeable with wealth and status, an example of fungibility and ownership.

Anything: I don't know if it's telling that your comment actually doesn't mention or link to Nerdlove at all.

Deoridhe: "I prefer Captain Awkward to Nerdlove...I can't speak to the validity of Dr Nerdlove"
posted by Deoridhe at 3:26 PM on January 6, 2015 [15 favorites]


I read you as saying that you did exactly recommend Nerdlove in your comment, which is what I said that 'people don't do'.

And indeed you in fact didn't.

(But yeah, this is neither here nor there.)
posted by Anything at 3:30 PM on January 6, 2015


Cumulatively, Anything, your last several comments add up to an excellent example of the Tone Argument. Now you have changed the course of the discussion to focus on how exactly it is feminists need to present their positions so as not to alienate nerds. You are complaining that Dr. NerdLove doesn't do it right, and that Amanda Marcotte doesn't go it right, and quibbling with Deoridhe about how the phrasing of her comments can be read as in a way that's different than what her intent was. But you are not engaging with the concepts and ideas presented in either Aaronson's or Penny's pieces.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:52 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bullshit. I highlighted 'dishonesty' for a reason.
posted by Anything at 3:54 PM on January 6, 2015


That's the same reason I called out MisantropicPainforest earlier in the thread.

There are plenty of fairly mean comments I haven't gone after precisely because I don't particularly care about tone.
posted by Anything at 3:57 PM on January 6, 2015


I think it's weird that everyone judges feminist writing on how well it appeals to angry nerds. I mean it would be nice if angry nerds were on board and all, but it's kind of a lead, follow or get out of the way thing at this point.
posted by empath at 3:59 PM on January 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


[Anything, this is the point where you need to back off a bit and stop responding to everything. Everyone else, please allow them to do so by not interrogating them further. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 4:05 PM on January 6, 2015


That's fine.
posted by Anything at 4:07 PM on January 6, 2015


The larger issue is why I'm personally sad the majority of the Men's Rights movement got derailed into blaming feminists for institutionalized sexism, cultural changes in response to increases in woman's equity, and their lack of access to women-as-objects.

There is a lot of area of work for the men who are asserting their right of access to things traditionally defined as "feminine". Some "effeminate" men have tried, but even within male gay communities there seems to be a hierarchy that devalues men with characteristics defined as feminine (which at this point includes speaking with tone and emphasis, and wearing colors - sexism is a WEIRD thing).

I have heard from individual men who are recognizing their connection with things traditionally defined as feminine in this society - access to emotions like sadness and joy, a desire to nurture and tend to others, a taste for beauty in environment and self-expression - and their skill at or desire to engage in traditionally feminine careers - like teaching and nursing - where they might get support from their female colleagues but often not from their male friends and peers due to them being identified with feminine and thus coded inferior things. I wish they could meaningfully connect with each other in a way which couldn't be co-opted by sexism against women.

I think a lot of progress could be made with men broadening out what is acceptable to themselves and men and how they relate to and support each other, but unfortunately it's not something I can participate in except as a supportive outsider; like women trying to repair relationships between women through feminism and womanism, there are some things which require motivation from inside of the group and a commitment to equity, support, and cooperation.
posted by Deoridhe at 8:04 PM on January 6, 2015 [18 favorites]


I think a lot of progress could be made with men broadening out what is acceptable to themselves and men and how they relate to and support each other, but unfortunately it's not something I can participate in except as a supportive outsider; like women trying to repair relationships between women through feminism and womanism, there are some things which require motivation from inside of the group and a commitment to equity, support, and cooperation.

Such a good point. I think it's important to remember that some of the reason that feminists don't step in and "fix" men or boys is out of respect for men and boys. In the same way I'd find it inappropriate for men to step in and say, "Here's how women should be," I find it inappropriate for women to be leading any movement designed to liberate men from the patriarchy. In grad school I actually designed a whole 12-week group therapy/educational program for high-school or college-aged boys about gender roles and then realized that it would be entirely inappropriate for me to implement it.

Men have historically relied on women to do their emotional work for them, and I see all the calls for feminists to fix boys and men as calls for more of the same. It's horrific that we don't encourage boys to have feelings (other than maybe lust and anger) or to process those feelings in helpful ways. It's horrific that this societal conditioning leaves men confused about what to do with emotional issues. But asking women to figure it out for men just extends the problem. Men need to be the ones leading the efforts to grapple with and redefine masculinity or "what it means to be a man" to encompass much more nuance and range than it currently does.
posted by jaguar at 8:18 PM on January 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


In a patriachial/kyriarchial society, women are not the opponent - they are the ball. In the mythological battle between jocks and nerds, women aren't the opponent, they are the ball. In the times when men complain about being "nice guys" who don't get girls while they watch "assholes" getting those same girls, women aren't the opponent, they are the ball. In the times when men complain that women just want status and money, women aren't the opponent, we're the ball. In all of these cases, women are being used as an add-on to the "wealth, status, and women" trifecta used by men to compete with other men.

Your broader point is absolutely correct, but perhaps the accurate analogy is that women are the net or goal, into which the competing men are trying to insert the ball.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:47 PM on January 6, 2015


these conversations about "men's gender struggles" always go the same.

everyone wants to talk about how men don't support men, and how supportive emotional labor is coded as feminine. and everyone wrings their hands about how supposedly the only way out of this mess is the (masculine) man's work of redefining masculinity.
posted by thug unicorn at 11:09 PM on January 6, 2015


if we center men and masculinity in these kinds of conversations, in the best case scenario i think we might end up with slightly better men. and i kinda feel like we can do better than that.
posted by thug unicorn at 11:28 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I like your optimism, thug unicorn, and I try to share it. That said, "slightly better men" would be a pretty good thing as long as it's not at the expense of progress toward better case scenarios.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:32 PM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


No handwringing involved, but I do know a lot of my work as a feminist has been exploring what feminine and being a woman means to me, how I view other women, internalized sexism, and the racism, classism, homopobhia, transphobia, and ableism which prevent me from seeing the world clearly and supporting my fellow women in making a world where all individuals can be valued and respected.

But yes, the eternal need of some men to be centered in these kinds of discussions is part of the problem, but in this case the OP was addressing men specifically, so it seemed like a proper space for it.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:38 AM on January 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's hard to define a better masculinity, because when you do you often end up with formulations like, "Real Men do X" which are often essentialist and wrong. So when I say this stuff, I'm speaking in generalities only.

One thing I think modern American boys need is more discipline. We need to teach boys to be more focused on schoolwork. We need to use drugs and drink less. We need to be less violent. We need to commit less crime in general. I'm not saying all men do this, but we do it a lot more then women and it's a major self sabotage.

We have to learn that it's okay to need help, to be vulnerable, to be hurt and that people are assholes if they mock that.

I do think boys need to be taught how to be respectful of other people and what the boundaries are. A lot of boys do not seem to be good at intuiting this through experience, or maybe the culture is just sending them the wrong lessons and that needs to be more directly corrected.

I think in a society with two parents working teachers can have major influence as role models. We should make it a long term goal to get more men into the profession. In the short term, I think it would be a good idea to find ways to work more male role models into the classroom. Take an hour or so every week and have a guest speaker from a different job. Not all men of course, a balanced and diverse group from the community.

I think a movement on men's issues should focus on things like homelessness, prison and criminal law reform, mental health and suicide prevention, protections for LGBT folks, efforts to convince men to take their health seriously and get regular checkups, and efforts to figure out why men are falling behind in education in some ways.

I don't see how any of this should come into conflict with feminism. And yet, what passes for a discussion of men's issues online is a collection of angry anti-feminists who spend all their time obsessing over things like false rape accusation and how the divorce case didn't go their way. It's very frustrating, because men do have real issues and the power to address those issues if we could organize and focus on them.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:24 AM on January 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


There are some organizations and men working on those types of conversations. The Men of Strength clubs have shown success. I worked with men leading a slightly modified version in a few local high schools and it was amazing to see the work they were doing.
posted by jaguar at 7:15 AM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have been sitting back and listening and just want to thank everybody because this conversation has been really great for me, especially this last part where I feel like so much positive and productive discussion is giving me new things to think about.

This especially:

I think it's important to remember that some of the reason that feminists don't step in and "fix" men or boys is out of respect for men and boys. In the same way I'd find it inappropriate for men to step in and say, "Here's how women should be," I find it inappropriate for women to be leading any movement designed to liberate men from the patriarchy.

That makes total sense. I have been frustrated because I don't feel like there are enough good, positive resources for boys and young men but, yes, of course it would make more sense for those to come from other men for the exact reasons you give, and I hadn't looked at it quite that way before.

I do hope some progressive, feminist men will work on this, to combat both the Red Pillness toxicity and that feeling of self-hatred that we hear a lot of awkward male nerds struggle with, so they don't turn away from progressive ideals toward that toxicity in desperation, looking for a scapegoat.

I know it will be tough going, though, for anyone who takes it on. If anyone saw The Daily Show last night, they had a fascinating segment on how people thin. Conservatives talking only to other conservatives become more conservative and surer of their positions, and the same thing happens to liberals talking to other liberals. This can be problematic because if any of those groups have biases, a lack of up-to-date information or erroneous information informing some of their positions, that will be reinforced by the in-group and magnified. So the solution would seem to be to simply talk to more people with different views, right? This is kind of a core belief of Metafilter, too.

But apparently the process is made more complicated, because the way our brains work is that when we hear a contrary opinion to our own biases, even with evidence to back it up, we tend to distrust the evidence more when we are backed by our in-group and the other person is not.

So, for example, 911 conspiracy theorists, upon given evidence that our government or aliens or whatever was not responsible for the towers going down, are likely to think the evidence is manufactured or even be more certain that they are onto something with their conspiracy theory, because if they were wrong, why would 'the other side' feel so threatened and take all this trouble to try to throw them off the trail?

Knowing that makes so many things, from the "Birchers" like Donald Trump to Gamergate to even Scott Aaronson's reaction to all this on his blog, a lot more understandable, relatable and, although infinitely frustrating, slightly more forgivable for me personally, too.

What we can do to try to combat this natural tendency In ourselves to want to automatically refute opposing voices, is to try to willingly expose ourselves to others' viewpoints within their in-groups, especially where we are the minority, and also make an effort to fact check everything from our in-group and their in-group independently (which can be really difficult, because first you have to find unbiased sources, and on polarized issues especially people tend to have [often unconscious] biases, plus it is just easier and less exhausting to just assume our in-group, being fundamentally right, is also more accurate in disseminating factual information).

Anyway, sorry this comment is so long-winded! That was just really cool for me to see last night, while in the midst of this discussion, to remind myself to check my own biases more often and also try to continue to feel empathy for people like SA who have a tough time getting there.

Thanks again, everyone, for such a productive conversation. I sincerely feel I learned and benefited from participating in the discussion in this thread.
posted by misha at 8:56 AM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Reading that over now that I am at the doctor's office, I should have included that I am aware that I have engaged in that stubborn doubling down behavior myself, and I am working on trying to do better.
posted by misha at 9:33 AM on January 7, 2015


In case folks haven't been following, the comments section on Aaronson's blog has continued to be extremely active, and the population of viewpoints presented has been highly diverse, and the discussion of very high quality. I recommend reading it if you have the time, even if you take issue with many of Aaronson's arguments.

I want to highlight one comment, not necessarily because it's most representative of the discussion as a whole, but because it eloquently summarizes an experience that's so close to my own that I would've liked to have written it myself.
posted by Anything at 10:11 PM on January 7, 2015


I went back to take a closer look at Captain Awkward. Thanks for the recommendation, Deoridhe. Looks like an interesting site and certainly not terrible. All the same, from a quick scan through the archives, it doesn't look like she's able to contribute much on this issue. The conversation here soon led to her declaring:

Go ask someone else.
We don’t know.


And indeed it didn't get much more useful from there.

It doesn't seem to me like you can easily give actually useful dating advice for guys like him and me strictly from the current mainstream feminist perspective. The advice I've gotten that has been useful has come from a place that gives serious credit and consideration to traditional gender roles as sources of attraction to a significant portion of the population of men and women. And that's a direction that a perfectly well-meaning blogger like Awkward presumably refuses to go to.
posted by Anything at 11:31 PM on January 7, 2015


By all means, please stick to traditional gender roles. They would seem to suit your approach to the world more effectively.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:21 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I sense a hint of sarcasm in your comment, but internalized treatment of masculinity as somehow lowly and suspect, a notion picked very much from ill-considered feminist commentary, really was a dead-end for me, right along with the pathological wariness of being a creep.

I was very surprised and glad to read a quote in one of the comments in the thread from a book by Laurie Penny:
One of the saddest things about modern society is that it has made us understand masculinity as something toxic and violent, associated with domination, control and savagery, being hungry for power and money and acquisitive, abusive sex. Part of the project of feminism is to free men as well as women from repressive stereotypes.
I don't fully know where Penny goes with that thought, but I do want to read that book.
posted by Anything at 12:42 AM on January 8, 2015


I have to be more charitable -- a lot of this influence has probably come from commentary that in itself is not ill-considered, but nevertheless part of a narrative that has on the whole been one-sided an also includes absolutist comments that are downright wrong.
posted by Anything at 12:47 AM on January 8, 2015


Once again: it's not the role or responsibility of feminists to tell any man, nerdy or otherwise, how to make women like them enough to sleep with them. If you look at the history of how men have treated women and realize that you've internalized a lot of dangerous and distasteful lessons about how you should think about and interact with women, explore what those things are and be conscious about not doing those things. Learn how to put yourself in the shoes of another person who is different than you are. Be compassionate. We can go through life with eyes and ears open, not assuming we understand everything and everyone around us, and we learn new ways to be compassionate towards them as we discover how our actions are interpreted by them.

If you're afraid that you can't control your own behaviour and might do something actionable without intending to, seek help from a professional, but not from just anyone who happens to identify as a feminist. You probably need to pay someone in that case. If you're afraid you might accidentally offend someone you meant to impress, well, welcome to being a human person. We all do that. Live and learn.

Just like men, women are not a homogenous group. There are no rules of engagement. You need to get to know yourself and how you've been shaped, and get to know the women around you and how they've been shaped, and work out what you have in common. That's the work you have to do to have meaningful relationships with anyone, even if that person is a woman.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:57 AM on January 8, 2015 [16 favorites]


It doesn't seem to me like you can easily give actually useful dating advice for guys like him and me strictly from the current mainstream feminist perspective. The advice I've gotten that has been useful has come from a place that gives serious credit and consideration to traditional gender roles as sources of attraction to a significant portion of the population of men and women. And that's a direction that a perfectly well-meaning blogger like Awkward presumably refuses to go to.

As Hildegarde has already helpfully reminded you, feminists don't owe you or anyone else dating advice, useful or otherwise. No one on earth owes you dating advice, obviously, but especially not feminists. Advising men, especially men who believe in the supposed sanctity of traditional gender roles, how to get a woman into bed is just not even remotely on our agenda, nor should it be, nor will it ever be. You really just have to try to figure that out for yourself, because feminists are really busy, like, trying to convince the government that our bodily autonomy is worth respecting.

The point of feminism is gender equality by way of the universal acknowledgment of women's personhood, not to comfort or assuage the feelings of men who believe that traditional gender roles -- inherently unequal as they are, with women assigned to the bottom of the hierarchy -- are even remotely useful, let alone "sources of attraction to a significant portion of the population" [insert advisement on the general usefulness of speaking for yourself here].

Feminism, or at least the type of feminism with which I am most intimately acquainted, is actually intended to make men who agree with your perspective uncomfortable. It isn't because we think masculinity is lowly or bad or whatever, it's because the traditional gender roles you crave are wielded as a cudgel to subjugate women all over the world. I certainly wouldn't want to date a man who expressed a desire for society to re-embrace traditional gender roles, and neither would any woman I know -- I'm afraid not too many of us are champing at the bit to hook up with dudes who believe a woman's rightful position in the world is barefoot and pregnant. The reason that some men want everything to go back to The Way It Used To Be is because it would put them back on top, where they think they belong, entitled to the company (and servitude!) of women. But it's 2015, not 1955, and women are people, too. We weren't actually put on earth to do your laundry, wash your dishes, and make your sandwiches. Traditional gender roles are rank bullshit. I can't even believe I have to type this on MeFi, of all places, but there you go.

So I'm sorry if repeatedly pointing out that feminists don't owe men dating advice is surprising or hurtful to you, but if it makes you feel any better, I'm also a deeply awkward nerd, but I definitely don't expect men -- or literally anyone else on earth -- to give me dating advice, because I feel like grown adults really need to take responsibility for navigating the complexities of human relations by ourselves, even with all the confusion and pain that entails. This belief stands in stark opposition to, say, complaining about how feminists are shitty because we don't have any interest in playing matchmaker for dudes who think we belong in the kitchen.
posted by divined by radio at 8:45 AM on January 8, 2015 [21 favorites]


I went back to take a closer look at Captain Awkward. Thanks for the recommendation, Deoridhe. Looks like an interesting site and certainly not terrible. All the same, from a quick scan through the archives, it doesn't look like she's able to contribute much on this issue. The conversation here soon led to her declaring:

Go ask someone else.
We don’t know.

And indeed it didn't get much more useful from there.

It doesn't seem to me like you can easily give actually useful dating advice for guys like him and me strictly from the current mainstream feminist perspective.


Captain Awkward is not just giving up, there, foisting a useless non-answer off on some poor lonely schlub -- she is acknowledging the limitations of both the medium of asking questions of an advice columnist, and the limitations of that question in particular.

Her point is that 1) because people (of all genders) are unique and messy, any honest & useful romantic advice columnist can only go so far. People are not mathematical equations, where you can just plug in a different set of numbers and get a "better" answer. Honest advice columnists have to address the issues in generalities (and acknowledge that there may be lots of exceptions), unless (maybe) there are lots of specific details in the questions;

Which 2) that question doesn't have. CA can't really answer the question in any detail, because the question lacks detail and CA doesn't actually know the person in real life. Which is why the "example letter" from a poorly-performing sports team analogy was introduced - in that case CA would have access to a lot of specific details about the sports team, so she could give specific advice. Without specific knowledge of the person who asks the question, no specific advice can honestly be given.

So suggesting that that question, and the Captain Awkward site in general, will not have any useful advice for shy young men is missing the point that many men are asking for the impossible - a general set of rules that will work for all social interactions with women.

Which is what Scott Aaronson clearly wished for, and his comments in that thread strongly suggest that when he didn't get it he became somewhat angry and bitter, and made some wild generalizations about women and feminists, generalizations that are not actually supported by the facts.

What Captain Awkward is able to contribute in her answer is, I think, connected to the current mainstream feminist perspective by this:
"I wish I could write up a magic gameplan that teaches you how to ask any lady out on a date and you’re givin’ each other the business in no time, but I can’t. That thing doesn’t actually exist. Women are just people, and like all other kinds of people they like all kinds of different things. So in the end you just have to keep trying until you find the woman that’s into your thing. Until then, be interesting, be caring, be respectful, and treat your dates the way you expect to be treated."
That's the last paragraph of the column, emphasis mine.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:57 AM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


traditional gender roles

The first thing I wonder when I read this is: whose traditions? From when?

I'm a woman who dates other women. Back when I first came out and was first starting to actually date (instead of thinking I would die alone and unloved, not to mention shunned by "normal" society), I didn't have any idea what "traditions" I was supposed to follow or look to. I was shy in certain circumstances (like, with women I found attractive and wanted to be more than friends with) and terrified, because not only could I not necessarily tell if the woman I was interested in was interested in me, I couldn't necessarily tell if she was interested in women at all. The potential consequences for asking a homophobic woman on a date were....not good.

It never occurred to me to look to "feminism" (I was already a feminist, having been raised by a feminist mom) for how-to advice like this. I figured out stuff like being polite, using words if I wasn't sure about non-verbal cues, etc. I don't know. I feel frustrated at the idea that shy, nerdy guys are somehow unique in their experience of awkward/shy/afraid around people they're attracted to, because it seems like in general their experiences have a huge overlap with those of people like me even though I'm not male and not terribly nerdy (I guess? I can't even tell anymore).
posted by rtha at 9:02 AM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hildegarde: Once again: it's not the role or responsibility of feminists to tell any man, nerdy or otherwise, how to make women like them enough to sleep with them.

The issue that I argue is that today's mainstream feminism keeps someone who presents a general relationship advice blog, who also happens to be feminist, from considering the full range of solutions to the problems presented. You're trying to make me wear a dunce cap and pretend like I'm asking general feminist women's issues publication to also dedicate themselves to dating advice, which is absurd. I can't take seriously comments that treat me like I'm stupid while failing to read what I'm actually talking about.

rtha: It never occurred to me to look to "feminism" (I was already a feminist, having been raised by a feminist mom) for how-to advice like this.

The thing is that I've always taken feminism to be a consistent ethos that you can apply throughout your daily life. Does that not seem like a familiar notion to you? But in the form it's taken in the movement, I have to reject it, and get attacked by the movement. It's not just indifferent to, but incompatible with a healthy life for me.

This is an approach that feminists wouldn't have to take and it leads to wasted opportunities by very effectively discouraging people from engaging with feminism at all, including the parts that are unambiguously valuable.
posted by Anything at 9:37 AM on January 8, 2015


divined by radio: Feminism, or at least the type of feminism with which I am most intimately acquainted, is actually intended to make men who agree with your perspective uncomfortable. It isn't because we think masculinity is lowly or bad or whatever, it's because the traditional gender roles you crave are wielded as a cudgel to subjugate women all over the world.

And in what I'm actually after, all of those oppressive features will have to be excised, with all the knowledge that comes from feminist critique. What's left is things like recognizing the importance for men, in the eyes of, yes, a significant portion of women, of being visibly held in high esteem by their peers, as observed in this study, also discussed here for example.

If you're being shamed from considering the possibility that men and women are generally any different, you won't consider such a dynamic at all, and are likely to be left in shadow and alone.

The mainstream feminist movement (and sorry if that phrasing sounds simplistic, but I can't easily come up with anything better descriptive) can choose to do what it wants with such information. But I will argue that that choice is not trivial.
posted by Anything at 10:13 AM on January 8, 2015


If you're being shamed from considering the possibility that men and women are generally any different, you won't consider such a dynamic at all, and are likely to be left in shadow and alone.

And by 'you' I mean someone like me who starts from a fairly significant lack of natural inclination to seeking prestige.
posted by Anything at 10:19 AM on January 8, 2015


The issue that I argue is that today's mainstream feminism keeps someone who presents a general relationship advice blog, who also happens to be feminist, from considering the full range of solutions to the problems presented.

I think what you're saying is that you think there is a ready solution to how to ensure that the woman you're interested will like you enough to sleep with you, and that feminism is preventing women from communicating that message to lonely men. Is that it? This sounds like PUA territory to me.

You're trying to make me wear a dunce cap and pretend like I'm asking general feminist women's issues publication to also dedicate themselves to dating advice, which is absurd. I can't take seriously comments that treat me like I'm stupid while failing to read what I'm actually talking about.

Um...okay. Not my intention. Just sharing perspectives, here.

The fact that women are also influenced by misogyny and that some women (and it's hard to tell which) may behave as if feminine-coded behaviours and aspirations are less desirable than male-coded behaviours and aspirations is not a secret. Misogyny is a systemic problem. It's something society as a whole does, so of course women also engage in it. That's the definition of systemic oppression, and it's what feminists are working to change.

What I'm hearing from you here is that feminists are not giving advice to lonely men telling them to try taking advantage of the fact that some women have internalized that systemic misogyny in order to get them to sleep with them, well, I suppose you're right. Feminists generally will put the well-being of women and their own integrity, goals, and ethics above a lonely man's desire to get into bed with a lady he likes. We want to dismantle that misogyny, not take advantage of its bloody and stinking remains.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:29 AM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


And rtha, I agree that such traditions probably won't offer much any use for non-heterosexuals nor other queer folk of various persuasions. I hope you found good advice of a different kind and that others do as well.
posted by Anything at 10:33 AM on January 8, 2015


> The thing is that I've always taken feminism to be a consistent ethos that you can apply throughout your daily life. Does that not seem like a familiar notion to you?

Yes, of course. But in the sense of "respect, ask, apologize if you hurt someone, etc." Not like "How To Ask A Girl On A Date" kind of ethos.

Asking "feminism" (in scare quotes because treating it like a monolith is just impossible) to give anyone the latter kind of specific advice is like asking a stone to make you a pair of nice shoes. You can, but you will be disappointed.
posted by rtha at 10:40 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hildegarde, you really are reading things into my comments that aren't there. First of all, I'm not asking for any outcomes to be ensured for men. Secondly, I'm not asking for women to abandon anything they find important. I'm mostly talking about entirely superficial things -- superficial, but important, because attraction can be weird.
posted by Anything at 10:40 AM on January 8, 2015


[Anything, yesterday restless_nomad said this "Anything, this is the point where you need to back off a bit and stop responding to everything. Everyone else, please allow them to do so by not interrogating them further. Thanks." and I think it still applies, please back off.]
posted by mathowie at 10:43 AM on January 8, 2015


I did take a break then, and I will take a break now. I've been trying to be substantive throughout, though, and I hope that people don't consider my sometimes lengthy input as mere noise.
posted by Anything at 10:46 AM on January 8, 2015


I'd just try and slow down, wait for a while and if there is more you want to respond to keep it to one comment. You have been kind of hyper posting.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:30 AM on January 8, 2015


> I want to highlight one comment, not necessarily because it's most representative of the discussion as a whole, but because it eloquently summarizes an experience that's so close to my own that I would've liked to have written it myself.

That comment is from a guy who claims to be a feminist but talks about "just how little I could trust my 'reasonable' feminist communities to be fair to anyone to whom any allegation of impropriety might stick" and goes on and on about "uncharitable feminist communities." This person is not actually a feminist, he's someone who thinks of himself as a feminist but treats actual feminists as annoyances who won't behave as he wants them to behave or treat him as he thinks he should be treated. And the immediately following comment is by Scott himself, who quotes this from Amy #499:
Without enough money you can’t do anything, you have no freedom, you simply stand there and get punched in the face by life repeatedly, and eventually you watch it happen to your kids.
And responds:
See, I’m trying to get you to see how the type of young male nerd we’re talking about might react to hearing comments like the above. He might say: wait a sec, kids? So you’re telling me that these people who get punched in the face by life repeatedly, who have it so much worse than me that I can’t even begin to comprehend how bad they have it, are nevertheless also so much better off than me that they were actually able to get married and have kids—making them, unlike me, Darwinian success stories?
He's ostensibly talking about "the type of young male nerd we’re talking about" but he's clearly so invested in that pathetically whiny and self-centered worldview he can't see how offensive he's being to Amy and any other adults like her who are saying adult things and expecting to be understood in an adult way by adults. Don't get me wrong, we are all pathetically whiny and self-centered as adolescents, but (as has been said repeatedly in this thread) he clearly hasn't given up on that worldview, he's just framing it as "the type of young male nerd we’re talking about" to provide himself with a figleaf of deniability. But he hasn't said one thing that gives me the impression he has really, truly separated himself from it. He's still clutching to his chest the same grievances he had at sixteen and refusing to revise his approach based on adult experience and conversation with adults. Like so many people (especially Americans, I fear), he refuses to grow up.
posted by languagehat at 11:31 AM on January 8, 2015 [16 favorites]


it's not the role or responsibility of feminists to tell any man, nerdy or otherwise, how to make women like them enough to sleep with them.

This. This a thousand times. And in fact, not only is it not our responsibility? It's not our end goal. And not only is it not our end goal? I would rather punch myself in the face repeatedly then to help some dude conceal his toxic feels about women just so he can detonate the ticking time bomb of his loathing on some other poor woman.
posted by corb at 11:42 AM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Corb, I didn't see anyone here talking about loathing women and I think that's pretty far afield of this discussion.

Hey, Anything, Captain Awkward has some general, supportive advice to guys about dating that I think is great.
posted by misha at 12:07 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Arthur Chu weighs in, sensibly as usual.
posted by jcreigh at 11:18 PM on January 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


Chu's piece really capture's the essence of the issue, I think - it's really problematic to compare one's on internal struggles to external discrimination and harassment that others face every single day.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:16 AM on January 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yes, the Chu piece hits nail on head, and, like LP, he comes from a place of empathy. Good piece & thanks for the link, jcreigh.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:29 AM on January 10, 2015


It seems as though every time I read something interesting and worthwhile that's been linked here from Salon, it turns out to be Arthur Chu.
posted by immlass at 10:29 AM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Great piece. A crucial bit, for those who don't want/have time to read the whole thing (or to entice them to do so):
To be blunt, Scott’s story is about Scott himself spending a lot of time by himself hating himself. When he eventually stops hating himself and, as an older, more mature nerd, asks women out, no women mace him, slap him or ritually humiliate him — instead he ends up with a girlfriend who ends up becoming a wife. So far, so typical.

Amy’s story is about being harassed and groped by men in the tech world and, eventually, being raped by a shy, nerdy guy she thought she trusted. So far, so also typical.

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

And Scott, and his commenters, are treating the two as worthy of equivalent degrees of scrutiny.
posted by languagehat at 12:17 PM on January 10, 2015 [28 favorites]


The Arthur Chu piece was fantastic, thanks for sharing.
posted by misha at 6:02 PM on January 11, 2015


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