So, working backward, let’s consider what Scott Aronson said.
First we need what Amy said, because he was responding to it.
As for the “shy and nerdy” bit…you know, some of the gropiest, most misogynistic guys I’ve met have been of the shy and nerdy persuasion. I can only speculate on why that’s so, but no, I would certainly not equate shy/nerdy with harmless.
In fact I think a shy/nerdy-normed world would be a significantly worse world for women. (Not least because so many nerdy guys are certain that they’re extremely fairminded and rational, when instead what they are is naive about both social structures and how many things play out in reality, and unwilling or unable to fathom that other people’s reactions to events might be both different from and as valid as their own.)
Also, you want credit for not being a supporter of keeping sexual harassers on payroll? Okay, but only if you’re going to give me credit for not being a supporter of brain tumors. I think I agree with the “baseline” comment above. Seriously, this is the kind of thinking that leads to divorces, where a guy wants applause for doing some (though not nearly half) of the house/kid-related work. I mean think about what you’re asking.
Now some of what he said (it’s long, and worth reading):
I’ve read many studies and task force reports about gender bias, and about the “privilege” and “entitlement” of the nerdy males that’s keeping women away from science.
Alas, as much as I try to understand other people’s perspectives, the first reference to my “male privilege”—my privilege!—is approximately where I get off the train, because it’s so alien to my actual lived experience.
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. To have any hope of bridging the gargantuan chasm between us, I’m going to have to reveal something about my life, and it’s going to be embarrassing.
(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.
Well…to be honest, the thinking there does seem a little bit “entitled” – not privileged, maybe, but kind of entitled. It does seem to be all about what he wants from his female classmates rather than about what his female classmates might need in order to be safe and reasonably free to move.
All this time, I faced constant reminders that the males who didn’t spend months reading and reflecting about feminism and their own shortcomings—even the ones who went to the opposite extreme, who engaged in what you called “good old-fashioned ass-grabbery”—actually had success that way. The same girls who I was terrified would pepper-spray me and call the police if I looked in their direction, often responded to the crudest advances of the most Neanderthal of men by accepting those advances. Yet it was I, the nerd, and not the Neanderthals, who needed to check his privilege and examine his hidden entitlement!
It all sounds pretty Chuck Lorre-world, to me.
He’s completely oblivious to the fact that he and his attitude are precisely why they never specified things that wouldn’t be considered harassment. Because people like him are looking for that line they can toe without crossing. Because he’s looking for exactly how much of what kinds of behavior he can get away with. Because he’s looking at women as targets rather than as people. Because he’s not considering that context makes a hell of a difference, and that behavior that isn’t harassment in one setting can be harassment in a different one. Because he’s not at all considering how women want to be treated, seeing them only as objects of his desire that are somehow being unfairly denied him. Because he sees those people who do harass and assault “have success” and, instead of detesting them for their behavior, aspires to have that same success at women’s expense and detests the women who deny him that.
UnknownEric the Apostate says
I was (and still am) a shy nerd. I was brutally mocked during junior high and high school. I never went on a date until I was 19, and not on a serious date until I was 21. But holy fuck, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t privileged. I also went to good schools, got good grades (without actually trying, in most cases), and managed to breeze through life with minimal effort. I had a brief flirtation with “nice-guy”-dom in college, but then a friend of mine called me out on it and after thinking about it for five seconds, I realized I was full of shit. It’s really not that hard. If a lazy nerd like me can manage to not turn into a fedora-bro, nobody else has a goddamned excuse.
/drops imaginary mic
Ophelia Benson says
Eh, the whole “shy and nerdy” thing to me just seems like a straight-up stereotype, neither that descriptive of shy people or nerdy people. It just seems like a bad way to even approach the issue. Though Amy isn’t the one that brought that up.
I mean, his whole attitude is that being a nerd makes you gross and unwanted to the opposite sex. That’s just some media BS that was pushed on us with zero relevance to the real world. It’s fake. It’s a nonsense stereotype that went viral like a meme. I’m often surprised at how men actually internalized that message, and with terrible consequences.
Ophelia Benson says
Right? As I say – it’s Chuck Lorre-world.
Reflecting on it further, it’s amazing to me how completely backwards these guys have it, not just in their attitudes, expectations, and behavior, but also in the perceived solution and the side they should ally with. Aside from their own selfishness and lack of empathy, what is one of the biggest obstacles for these supposed “nice guys” and “shy nerds”? The rigid gender roles our culture enforces. If you want “shy and nerdy” to not be misunderstood as “weird and creepy”, you should want to tear down the cultural pedestal that the dude-bros are perched upon. If you want there to be women who share your interests and feel welcome in your fields instead of seeing them as geeky, childish, or unwelcoming, you should want to cut down the fence that cordons off certain interests as “guys only” or “girls only”. And who are the ones wanting to tear down that pedestal and cut down that fence? Feminists! Yet who do these guys almost invariably align with? The fucking MRActivists who represent the very culture that exacerbates their situation (I won’t say “causes their situation”, because they own a fair share of the cause themselves). In every respect, these deluded “nice guys” are their own worst enemy.
Anne Fenwick says
I wonder what he calls a crude advance by the most Neanderthal of men? I’ve always responded quite well to men who go around acting like human beings who are comfortable with sexuality and who seem to think women are human beings who might have compatible sexual interests… or if not, no matter. Even if I have other plans, I’m usually quite happy to see those guys. But I’m really leery around men who think I might call the cops if they look at me. That’s kind of weird, and also, what are they going to do if I look at them?
Doublereed, did you ever go to public school?
There was a certain amount of harassment I experienced between 7th and 8th grade due to being a good student, before parents pulled me our of school because of suspected racism of the school system.
People are often insensitive to things they don’t experience.
Chuck Lorre-world, indeed. That is one of the most bizarre comments that I’ve read this year (the Aaronson comment); exceedingly self-centered and egomaniacal. I really have to doubt his “feminist ideals” that he has “held since childhood” since the whole comment is littered with dehumanizing & objectifying thoughts.
I think that most people start out as children having difficulty relating to other people, because we filter everything through the lenses of our own experiences and thoughts that obviously don’t exactly match those of others, but at some point there is usually a realization of shared humanity that starts to put to bed all the many false assumptions that Aaronson gives voice to (and many of which he apparently still believes). All those girls that he desired so much were (for him) objects of fear and desire, and not actual human beings with their own failings and fears & wants and needs. That’s to be expected of a child without much socialization, but I wonder if he he even realizes that now, as an adult. I certainly don’t see much evidence for such an insight in his comment. Also, too: that his favorite feminist writer was Andrea Dworkin is… disturbing.
Laurie Penny wrote a very good article on this, too, btw.
Men are terrified women will laugh at them, women are terrified men will harm them.
Not that high school crap isn’t a problem, but seriously? Even after the worst date I went on in high school I wasn’t scorned. And we still had a class together.
AJ Milne says
I erm, will confess to having had some dry spells, in my sex life.. and I will confess to occasionally having felt something like that self-pitying: ‘Hey, I’m a nice guy, why am I not getting more sex?’ thing, too.
I got better. I think.
Funny thing, though… I don’t ever remember really blaming women as some kind of faceless, global entity, for only liking ‘bad guys’ or some other such stupidity, this seeming to be the standard MRA/bitter nerd assumption. I think because I also knew other people who did seem like pretty decent people who clearly were having lovely evenings with company, and could work out, okay, whatever this is about, it’s not just that…
Heck. I think I could figure it out pretty well, even then. Some about me, honestly, and even getting, no, erm, I’m not just a ‘nice guy’, this being something I think a lot of these self-pitying nerds might do well to consider for themselves. I figure I do have some issues, yes, honestly; not gonna elaborate, forgive me, do like some privacy, thanks, do have some limits about how helpful I’d like to be here….
But also, yes, some at the time wasn’t just about me, it’s also just about situations. Busy. Even absurdly. Not in social situations where you’re likely to meet anyone. Maybe there even were sorta opportunities, but, erm, just seems wrong (she’s sorta otherwise involved; how complicated do you want to make things), etc…
But I also think, seriously, maybe being a little more helpful, that passage of Amy’s:
… is something a lot of these self-described ‘nice guys’ might want to take a very hard look at. Tattoo it on their own forehead, if they’re not getting it…
And the sooner they get over that ‘nerdy guy = nice guy = obviously unfair that women don’t give him a chance’ assumption, well…
… well, seriously, maybe the internet can stop being quite such a damned toxic place for women. Because I really am having it up to here with self-pitying nerds, of late, I gotta tell ya. And cringe slightly, in retrospect, at even having thought something similar, once…
In something a little softer on that, I will say: I think there’s something very seductive about that ‘obviously unfair’ meme that gets around. I expect it’s very comforting, in its poisonous way. Ain’t that there’s anything wrong with you, oh no, it’s just that life is so unfair that no one appreciates your nerdly wonderfulness…
And seriously, a little more meta, it keeps coming back to me that, in fact, I think some of the most dangerous people on the planet are the ones who are utterly convinced they’ve been treated Terribly Unjustly, that the world owes them better, that they’re not getting their due. You can do really incredibly awful things to other people, sufficiently convinced you’re just getting your own back…
I wonder in retrospect if we’ll look at the first decades of the net like this. The time that crap just hung all out there, and a lot of actually kinda pissy, self-pitying guys said stuff they would later regret, and, actually, wound up making things hell for for the people standing in the crossfire, as a result. And then culture, talking that much more publicly about it all, at least, and properly appalled at what it all looked like in the light, finally fucking grew up.
I graduated college in the 1980s, and in my first job, one of my co-workers was a 60-something-year-old guy who had never worked with a woman who was technical. The first time he called me “Sweetheart”, I pointed out to him that he never called our male co-workers “Sweetheart”…and he LISTENED and AGREED and made an effort not to do it again (sometimes he slipped up, but it clearly wasn’t on purpose). Now, if a guy born in the 1920s could manage to be non-creepy, how come Millenials born in the 1990s (3 decades after Women’s Lib was a movement) can’t manage it?
Pierce R. Butler says
AJ Milne @ # 11: … I think some of the most dangerous people on the planet are the ones who are utterly convinced they’ve been treated Terribly Unjustly, that the world owes them better…
I just finished reading Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, in which he develops the thesis that a very similar mentality governed our 37th president – and that much of RMN’s success came from cultivating a comparable sense of grievance-against-elites among his supporters, to the enduring damage of US political culture.
Why Do They Hate Us™, indeed…
I understand Asperger’s Syndrome and/or Autism are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed in boys than in girls. Is there a mild version that would contribute to nerdiness and difficulty with the subtleties of intersex relations? And that would make it more difficult for a nerd to understand and appreciate those disadvantages faced by women and girls.
AJ Milne says
In parallel: I’ve been reading Robert Service’s Stalin bio, and he seems to figure there was a significant component of that in there, too. Resentment, a pathological tendency to nurse it, endlessly, this whole ‘I’ve been wronged, payback is due’ thing…
Sure, it’s maybe drawing lines between different things, and of course it’s hard to find a more dramatically oversized example anywhere, but yeah, I just kept thinking how it all had such a familiar ring.
ludicrous – no. And don’t.
chigau (違う) says
Some of what Scott Aronson says sounds a bit like Elliot Rodger.
I also thought Aronson sounded a lot like Elliot Rodger.
Yes, I had some harassment because I was nerdy but I didn’t internalize it. They’re the idiotic people with things wrong with them, not me. I’m not going to let other people define who I am with stereotypes. I recognized it as silly then, and I recognize it as silly now.
Being nerdy has always, always been one of my most attractive qualities. And what’s so silly is that now we have this “are nerds now sexy?” thing which is just more of the silly attitude. The media has changed attitudes but it’s still fake and artificial, because “nerds” were never actually unattractive. It was just a stupid meme that society came up with out of nothing.
I didn’t mean to come across as insensitive. On the contrary, I was trying to say that people who did internalize such things could have a lot of difficulty.
#7 @Anne Fenwick,
Exactly my thoughts, Anne. Fancy women interested in sexy-good-fun-time just for its own sake responding positively to cheerful men who are open about wanting sexy-good-fun-time for all participants? How irrational of them to find men who obviously have non-fun ideas about sex (either degrading or hyper-romantic or a weird amalgam, and sadly they probably don’t even realise that these ideas are very non-fun indeed) less appealing?
Men who know how to talk to women about sharing sexual desire and how to LISTEN to what women say back to them from the standpoint that women’s wishes are just as important as their own are the exact opposite of any Neanderthal stereotype.