[BLOG NOTE: from the title, it should be obvious that this is not a rerun.]
The nice thing about writing a blog post a month after anyone stopped being interested in Thing is that you get to link to other people making your points better than you would. So I recommend Nothing Is Mere for a summary of the situation and Muga Sofer’s essay on anti-feminist superweapons (which probably took a couple thousand words out of this post by itself, thanks dude).
Scott Aaronson wanted to kill himself.
The thing about wanting to kill yourself is that… if you genuinely wish to be dead, you are, by the consensus of the psychiatric community, Not Sane. The DSM-V is less into generalized assessments of functioning but in the DSM-IV wanting to be dead is enough to catapult you into the functioning level of schizophrenics.
And this is something that really doesn’t get mentioned in any of the discussion of Scott Aaronson’s post. The feminist consensus is “you just have mental health issues, you’re not not structurally oppressed”– but mental illness is, in fact, an axis of structural oppression. Therefore he is oppressed. Because he is mentally ill. For fuck’s sake. Like, do I need to make a Non-Suicidal Privilege Checklist here?
1) It is not legal to kidnap me and imprison me.
2) I can describe my emotions to my friends without everyone freaking the fuck out.
3) I have never had to glare at someone while they explained to me that I was so strong and I could get through this because the night is darkest before the dawn
4) … well, you get the point.
On the other hand: clinical depression is pretty much the ordinary human response to being really fucking miserable. Some people are just prone to become depressed in general; they have a job and friends and a romantic partner, everything is going right for them, but they just hurt all the time and can’t get out of bed. But for a lot of people depression is a response to something. “I’m depressed because I’m lonely.” “I’m depressed because people keep bullying me.” “I’m depressed because I have to live with my abusive parents.” “I’m depressed because I’m poor and I don’t have any options to not become poor.” “I’m depressed because my mom just died.”
You may be depressed if your mother died! (Scott informs me antidepressants help with grief as much as they do with depression.) But by the “depressed people are oppressed” argument, that would mean that you’re oppressed because your mother died! I don’t think that’s quite right.
I think it’s necessary to take a nuanced approach. If you’re suicidally depressed because your mom died, you’re oppressed as a depressed person. You’re as likely to be legally kidnapped as anyone else. But this does not magically transmutate your mom dying into a form of oppression, as opposed to an ordinary form of suffering. Similarly, if Aaronson was depressed because he was lonely, that doesn’t mean his loneliness is a form of oppression.
On the third hand: I am pretty damn confident that if you are seeking chemical castration because you are afraid of your sexuality, you are not totally and 100% neurotypical.
One of the most useful concepts I picked up from Catholicism is scrupulosity, which I recently introduced into the Less Wrong community. Scrupulosity is excessive guilt, in much the same way that an anxiety disorder is excessive fear. The iconic Catholic example is related to the fact that one must fast before Communion. The normal person just doesn’t eat for a couple hours. The scrupulous person frets. Is brushing your teeth breaking the fast? Is accidentally swallowing a bug breaking the fast? What if the priest gives a very short homily and starts distributing communion when you haven’t fasted for long enough? You could have committed a mortal sin without knowing!
(Note that this is not the same thing as the OCD symptom scrupulosity; while we have many things in common, and OCD medication was remarkably helpful in treating my scrupulosity, most people I know who identify as scrupulous have not been diagnosed with OCD.)
Now, Amanda Marcotte, Arthur Chu, &co really enjoy talking about how this is Aaronson’s own personal mental health problems and between him and his therapist and not a matter of Structural Oppression. But… okay, it is my own personal mental health problems when I break down crying because buying concert tickets makes me basically a murderer because I didn’t spend the money on malaria nets. I admit this. If I were a sane person, I would probably cry about being a murderer much less. Maybe not at all! However, I feel like the child in the pond argument is, at the very least, not helping?
(…if you’re prone to scrupulosity and don’t know what I’m referring to don’t read that link.)
It’s true that the authors who gave Scott Aaronson the ideas that led to his seeking chemical castration did not intend “hey, I’m going to make some random nerdy dude seek castration! That sounds hilarious!” Most of them had no idea that their ideas would be taken in this way! They would probably be horrified if they found out! It really isn’t their fault.
And yet… he wouldn’t have been hurt if people weren’t constantly telling him what a bad person he is. Like: Amanda Marcotte responded to a comment about how Scott Aaronson didn’t hit on women because he was afraid of hurting them with his sexuality by proposing that he had so much male entitlement that he expected women to just fall into his lap without him doing anything.
That shit is fucking crazymaking. You follow all the rules! Somebody says that X is okay and someone else says it’s bad and you don’t do it, just to be on the safe side. You read Elevatorgate and are puzzled until you find out the problem is hitting on women in elevators, and then you worry about all the other spaces you shouldn’t hit on women in that you don’t know about because they didn’t get a -gate suffix. You try to read body language, but you don’t know how and all the instructions are confusing, so you just assume everyone is rejecting you. You don’t hit on people because it might creep them out and that hurts people and you don’t want to hurt people, you don’t want to do things that are wrong. And then, when you’ve just about resigned yourself to eternal loneliness with your feminist halo, Marcotte comes along and says that that’s not good enough and you have to follow all those vaguely defined, mutually contradictory rules and still ask people out. If you don’t, you are Male Entitled Expects Women To Fall Into His Lap. Don’t think you can escape your evil just by being celibate, men!
Yes, I know you didn’t mean to. I remember a phrase social justice people really like using. Something about intent? And magic?
I know. People say that rhetoric for reasons. “Creeps are evil terrible no-good very-bad people” allows women to be upset by something that causes them a great deal of pain. Some people need to hear the child-in-the-pond argument to get past their apathy for Africans. You can decide that the suffering of me and Scott Aaronson are the price you’re paying for stronger rhetoric. That might even be a correct decision.
But don’t fucking pretend you aren’t hurting us.
Don’t look me in the eye and say that my guilt is imaginary, made up, a product of me being an evil person and if I were just less evil I could take everything you’re saying with a clear conscience. Be honest about the price you’re paying. Say to yourself, “I know that what I’m saying will cause some people to be suicidal, and I’m fine with that, and I think it’s worth it.” Or don’t fucking say it.
Seriously, nerdy dudes: care less about creeping women out. I mean, don’t deliberately do things you suspect may creep a woman out, but making mistakes is a natural part of learning. Being creeped out by one random dude is not The Worst Pain People Can Ever Experience and it’s certainly not worth dooming you to an eternal life of loneliness over. She’ll live.
Here’s the thing: nerd culture is sexist. I am not going to make any statements about whether it is more sexist or less sexist than any other culture; I can only speak of the communities I’ve been in, and I have no idea how you’d measure relative sexism anyway. But it is sexist, and it has kinds of sexism that are particularly common for nerd culture.
For example: I was recently made aware of this Patrick Rothfuss post, in which Rothfuss creates a metaphor about having a crush on a socially awkward, smart girl who reads lots of books, and then several years later finding a porn video of her and she’s gorgeous and great at sex and kinky. And he says, “This girl has nothing in common with your high-school crush except for her social security number. Everything you loved about her is gone.”
Of course, perhaps he has a little bit of a point: part of what Teenage Boy was attracted to was that High School Crush was his equal sexually– not scary, not threatening, someone just as likely as you to fuck up during sex. And High School Crush no longer has that trait. But, presumably, she is still smart and socially awkward and an avid reader and good at chemistry. A while back, you could find me taking off my clothes for money on the Internet, and this does not seem to have magically given me social skills or stopped me from being constantly in the middle of five books at once or given me less fervent feelings about Admiral Thrawn.
This is an example of the common sexist division of women into the Madonna (saintly, pedestalized) and the Whore (sexual, degraded). But it also, I think, has a certain nerd flavor. The Madonna is an idealized nerd girl: she reads! she knows chemistry! she makes Star Wars references! And it’s not just the idea that sex makes someone worth less, it’s the idea that sex makes someone not a nerd: that one cannot be hot or sexual and also, on a certain level, feel like a robot surrounded by humans it doesn’t quite understand. (Of course, a certain– how shall we put it– conventional unattractiveness is a common trait of nerdfolk; but so is mental illness, and no one has proposed that getting therapy means you get kicked out of the tribe.) When I talk about nerd sexism, this is an example of the kind of thing I’m talking about.
Nevertheless, I am somewhat skeptical when non-nerd feminists start going on about how sexist nerds are.
Here’s a metaphor feminists may find helpful: imagine an anti-feminist going on about toxicity and bullying within social justice culture. You may agree with them that social justice culture is often toxic and bullying; you may agree with every example they choose and criticism they make. However, you probably have the sneaking suspicion that the anti-feminist is not actually motivated by a pure and selfless desire to help the feminist movement be the best that it can be. You probably think that the anti-feminist disagrees with some very core values of yours such as “in general, it is bad to make fun of people because they’re behaving in ways that are not typical for their gender”, and that their critiques of social justice (however accurate) are a tool to advance this value you find despicable. And, in practice, it usually turns out that said anti-feminists will say something about man-hating hairy-legged bra-burning dykes, and thus your suspicion turns out to be totally justified.
Similarly, in my experience, non-nerd feminists often seem to be have values that I, personally, find repugnant, such as “omg isn’t it creepy when an ugly person dares to express sexual desire? Ew! Gross!”, and that their critiques of nerd culture– even the critiques I think are accurate— are a tool to advance said values. And, in practice, non-nerd feminists have this disturbing tendency to go on about fat ugly autistic neckbeards who have mental health issues and live in their parents’ basement and act like Sheldon Cooper.
And… you know, the primary victims of toxic social justice are other social justice people, for the obvious reason that social justice people spend a lot of time hanging out with each other. Similarly, the primary victims of nerd sexism are, well, female nerds. It ain’t you guys they’re putting up on the pedestal. And I sort of have to wonder why y’all are so invested, in the same way I wonder why anti-feminists are so invested in feminists bullying each other.
Why don’t you let us deal with our own shit?
Man, I get so annoyed when people throw Dworkin under the bus. Especially Arthur Chu! Dude, if you’re down for using any tactic in the war for Justice– if your response to “bad idea gets counterargument, does not get bullet, never ever ever” is “we’re in a war, you moron, my survival and that of my friends is on the line, I’m not going to disarm myself just to indulge your squeamishness”– you should be all over Dworkin.
Some people have no sense of history or of our foremothers and that is why you are all weak and will not survive the winter.
I have interacted with a lot of non-sexist men over the course of my life. For a lot of them, they believed sexist things, and then they discovered feminism, and then they were like “oh god! I believe so many sexist things! I have to stop doing that!” These are usually the men who are very sold on feminism.
I have also, over the course of my life, interacted with a fair number of men who, out of moral luck, have happened not to have absorbed many sexist ideas. Then they encounter feminists saying “God, men need to stop shaming sluts! They need to stop pressuring women into wearing lipstick and then calling women ‘shallow’ when they wear lipstick! They really, really need to stop sexually harassing women!” And it would not occur to those men to sexually harass women, or pressure women into wearing lipstick and then think they’re shallow when they do, or think less of a woman for having sex. And they don’t notice their male friends doing those things. Maybe because they don’t have any sexist male friends. More likely it’s because it’s hard to notice people being assholes if their assholery doesn’t affect you. It’s the same principle as the one at work when coming out as trans mysteriously transmutes previously innocuous comedies into horrific transmisogynist shitfests.
(we will now have a five-minute break for Ozy to quietly weep about Life of Brian)
So those non-sexist men’s instant reaction is to conclude that feminists are looking for sexism where none exists, or to round feminists’ complaint to the nearest thing they would do and then say “wow! These feminists think it is sexual harassment just to ask a girl out!”
There is a cost to pointing this out, which is that a bunch of sexist men will conclude they are actually super awesome high-level not sexist, because sexists are not generally known for their self-awareness w.r.t. sexism. Suffice it to say that if you’ve ever opined that a fat woman is just not taking care of herself you are not in the category which I am discussing, and that if you are contemplating linking this post to explain to someone that your anti-feminism is the result of super awesome high-level not-sexism then you are definitely not in the category which I am discussing.
Non-sexist men: I would like to point out the possibility that feminists keep getting upset about men who aren’t you. That when feminists say “it is bad when men think less of women for having sex,” they are in fact referring to an actually existing group of people, which many women have interacted with and who cause them a great deal of distress, and of which you are not a member. Therefore, the fact that you wouldn’t do that does not mean that other men wouldn’t do that. Other men are assholes. I’m sorry.
I really feel like I need to preface this section with “what about the womenz?” but… what makes you think this is a shy nerdy male problem?
It is true that being asked out is usually easier for socially anxious people than asking people out. (Well, not for me, but I’m unusual.) Unfortunately, that sort of requires that people actually ask you out.
Hot, socially adroit people are usually not that interested in us ugly awkward weirdos. They’re off doing their own thing going to… bars? Parties? The Super Bowl? Whatever. This would work out fine if the shy nerdy female’s natural mate, the shy nerdy male, asked them out. But they don’t. That is literally what this whole discussion is about.
Now, the shy nerdy females can ask people out! But asking people out is really hard. (Citation: this entire conversation.) And remember, we have this whole culture that is constantly telling women that Men Do The Asking and Women Get Asked. You might know that everyone has a crush on so-and-so, but shy nerdy women aren’t actually telepathic. And if you know that men ask you out when they’re into you, and men don’t ask you out, it is really easy to conclude that the reason is that you’re hideous and ugly and nobody likes you.
Our problems are the same problems, inflected differently.
I leave it as an exercise for the shy nerdy male reader how often they’ve crushingly rejected women they were into.
Sexual harassers are not confused about social rules.
Sexual harassers like to claim that they are confused about social rules. “It was an accident!” they cry. “How was I supposed to know that I’m not supposed to mime masturbation at my hot coworker? Lo! These social rules! So complicated!”
For some reason I have never been quite able to comprehend, everyone seems to have collectively said to themselves, “Gosh! People desperately trying to get out of punishment for harming others! Those seem like exactly the sort of people who would be accurate self-reporters of their own motivations and thought processes!”
Look: in the vast majority of sexual harassment policies I have read, there is a requirement that the harassee inform the harasser that the behavior is unwelcome and they should stop. If you keep doing something after the person you’re doing it to has told you that it is unwelcome and you should stop, then your problem is not a “confused about social rules” problem. “Don’t tell sexual jokes that the person says are unwelcome” is a very simple social rule, and 100% of the confused-about-social-rules people I have interacted with (and I have interacted with a lot) have completely understood it. Similarly, it is very difficult for me to understand how a shy, terrified nerd would manage to grope someone, or ask someone out multiple times after that person had said ‘no’, or threaten to spread a rumor that someone is a slut if that person doesn’t go out with them.
I am not going to say that there has never been a case of someone so confused about social rules that they groped someone in the workplace. The world is wide and contains many things. But I think as a general assumption we can all collectively agree that confused-about-social-rules people are making a mistake in the totally opposite direction.
On my outline, this point is literally a link to this comment and the phrase “aaaaaaaaaa.”
Scott Aaronson, I see what you’re going for there! It’s a really natural urge to kick all the assholes out of your group. And like I said before, I don’t think there’s a genuine epidemic of people who don’t want to sexually harass anyone but are sufficiently confused about socializing that they wind up doing so by mistake, and I am totally supportive of anything that points out this obvious yet constantly missed fact.
But the thing is… words don’t work like that! Even if you say “in this conversation, ‘shy nerdy male’ means someone who is so scared of harassing girls that they don’t ask them out”, in the wider world “shy nerdy male” is connected to a lot of things like “acne” and “playing D&D” and “programming” and “having really, really strong opinions about Admiral Thrawn, like, you have no idea how strong my Admiral Thrawn opinions are.” And there are totally people who have really strong opinions about Admiral Thrawn and harass people, or abuse them, or rape them. The guy who sexually assaulted me fucking wrote Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace fanfic, you know?
And people like that often equivocate between the two definitions! They are like “I am an acne-ridden, D&D-playing, fanfic-writing programmer with strong opinions about Star Wars; therefore, I am a shy male nerd; therefore, if I am sexually harassing people, it is because I don’t understand social rules and you should be really kind and understanding and not get mad at me or tell my friends I’m being an asshole.”
And… remember how I said that nerd sexism mostly affects female nerds? If you don’t understand social rules, it’s also hard to set boundaries. If you’re terrified of people, it’s scary to tell someone to stop, especially if they have power over you. It’s easy to just shut up and take it and hurt, especially when the person hurting you is shy and awkward and doesn’t understand, and you’re also shy and awkward and don’t understand, and you think about all those rules that are so confusing and contradictory and you don’t want to punish someone like you for not understanding them, and…
Our problems are the same problems, inflected differently.
Please be kind.
In middle school they used to grope me. It was a joke. The punchline was that no one would really be attracted to someone as ugly as me.
When I got my nerves together to tell an adult (not about the groping– I couldn’t, it was too embarrassing– but about some of the harassment), they said that boys in the smart-kid classes don’t know how to relate to girls, because they were shy. They probably had a crush on me and didn’t know how to show it.
That’s my traumatizing story, I guess, since we’re all sharing.