Anxious nerds v alluring aliens

Laurie Penny has some thoughts on nerd entitlement. She has them in response to an impassioned comment by Scott Aronson on his own blog about what it’s like to be a nerdy anxious teenage boy and why that makes it impossible for him to recognize any “privilege” attributed to him by feminists. Here’s some of what Penny has to say:

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.

This is why Silicon Valley Sexism. This is why Pick Up Artists. This is why Rape Culture.

Scott, imagine what it’s like to have all the problems you had and then putting up with structural misogyny on top of that. Or how about a triple whammy: you have to go through your entire school years again but this time you’re a lonely nerd who also faces sexism and racism. 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. People whose received trauma makes them disinclined to listen to pleas from people whose trauma was compounded by structural oppression. People who don’t want to hear that there is anyone more oppressed than them, who definitely don’t want to hear that maybe women and people of colour had to go through the hell of nerd puberty as well, because they haven’t recovered from their own appalling nerdolescence. People who definitely don’t want to hear that, smart as they are, there might be basic things about society that they haven’t understood, because they have been prevented from understanding by the very forces that caused them such pain as children.

As she goes on to say, it’s an impasse. The points of view stare at each other uncomprehendingly across an abyss.

Scott Aronson was a tortured nerdy anxious boy desperate for sex which his nerdiness and anxiety prevented him from having. If only he’d grown up in the shtetl…

Penny again:

…people’s sexuality and self-esteem get twisted into resentment of the (usually opposite) gender; they start to see that gender as less than human, particularly if they are men and learn at every stage of their informal and formal education that women are just worth less, have always been less, are not as smart, not as good, not as humanly human as men. Aaronson goes on to comment that this “death-spiral” is a product of the times. I agree. “In a different social context — for example, that of my great-grandparents in the shtetl—I would have gotten married at an early age and been completely fine,” he writes. Scott, my great-grandparents also lived in a shtetl. I understand that you sometimes feel you might have been better adapted to that sort of life – when dating and marriage were organised to make things easy for clever young men. On the same Shtetl, however, I would have been married at a young age to a man who would have been the legal owner of my body, my property and the children I would have been expected to have; I would never have been allowed to be a scholar. I would have worked in the fields as well as the home to support my husband in his more cerebral pursuits, and with my small weedy nerdy frame, I would likely have died young from exhaustion or in childbirth.

It’s interesting that he didn’t think of that, isn’t it. Early forced marriage would have meant plenty of sex for him, sex on demand, because that’s what forced marriage is for. Whew. It’s all taken care of. For him – but it’s not such a treat for her.



  1. Dave Ricks says

    Laura Penny’s analysis/synthesis here is remarkably personal, political, constructive, and useful. I copied and pasted her text from the New Statesman print-friendly page into a word processor so I can print it and reread again it away from a computer. When I pulled down my menu to save the text I copied and pasted, somehow my word processor suggested the filename I know them feels, Scott, so I saved it as that.

    Aaronson responded to the Twitter war about his comment 171, and there it looks like he plans to recap his point of view in another blog post, but I predict one point will remain in my mind from the New Statesman subtitle:

    White male nerds need to recognize that other people had traumatic upbringings, too — and that’s different from structural oppression.

    To spell that out, Aaronson’s comment 171 reacted by saying

    my “male privilege” — my privilege!

    as a personal affront, but the New Statesman subtitle to Laura Penny’s post addressed exactly that as a misunderstanding he needs to learn about and get over. If the New Statesman editors wrote that subtitle, I salute them for understanding the dynamics here.

  2. Rabidtreeweasel says

    I find it really interesting that he seems to equate “male privilege” with getting lots of sex. Nope. No. Male privilege is believing you deserve to have lots of sex because society is structured in such a way that women are promoted as sex objects. Whether or not you get to have sex with those women, well, that’s a matter of “winning” because in a culture of male privilege, women are prizes to be won or lost, not people to object or acquiesce to your advances.

    He needs to check his privilege again, because he clearly missed it the first time he looked.

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