Feminism and The Search for Truth

Part 1: Pain is bad; also, it’s data Social justice and feminism, like every other intellectual movement, should be about truth. They can and are and should be about other things as well – solidarity, encouragement, emotion, commitment, action – but truth must be at the center, or we will find we are fighting for, and perhaps more frighteningly, against, the wrong things. I was pained by the internet’s response to Dr. Scott Aaronson’s comment on his blog, detailing the pain he underwent as a self-described nerd, wholly committed (to the point of asking for castration) to never acting towards women in a way that could ever be interpreted as an assault or unwelcome advance. The worst was about what you’d expect from the worst of any group, with the multiplier of the internet and a pile-on mentality: cruel in its dismissal of Dr. Aaronson’s vulnerability and pain and vicious in its unfounded attacks. Even the article in the New Statesman by Laurie Penny, lauded in several corners for its empathy and compassion, was to me, a terrible disappointment. There are more and more whispers coming from disparate places that echo what Dr. Aaronson said. It is becoming emprically and ethically questionable to doubt that feminist messages make the lives of some men (and others attracted to women, and others period), specifically those in the nerd camp, harder, and not in a productive way. The New Statesmen piece barely addressed any of this. It acknowledged that being on the social outskirts is difficult, and then tied everything back to traditional feminist ideas by pointing out the struggles that women face, and how they are more, or harder, or more important. But to address someone expressing the pain they felt as a result of trying to take feminist ideas seriously by offering them yet more of the same is a failing, in ethics and in thinking. As Aaronson himself said in edits to his original comment:

[My comment] is not, insanely, to suggest a lack of misogyny in the modern world! To whatever extent there is misogyny, one could say that there’s also “male privilege.” Rather it’s to suggest that, given what nerdy males have themselves had to endure in life, shaming them over their “male privilege” is a bad way to begin a conversation with them.

Not only that, but the angle was kind of a non sequitur, since Dr. Aaronson didn’t bring up anything about patriarchy or privilege(1) unhelpful to me. Dr. Aaronson did seem to misunderstand  privilege, feeling like he didn’t have it since his life was so hard, and that it would have been easier to be a woman or gay. He even suggested, though did not necessarily stand behind, the idea that being a shy male nerd might “have put me [Dr. Aaronson] into one of society’s least privileged classes.” However, while there’s certainly room to engage with that misunderstanding, I saw Laurie Penny addressing primarily the question of whether Dr. Aaronson was less privileged than his female counterparts (no, and I’m glad she pointed that out) rather than the bigger question of feminism’s role in making his life more difficult, and whether privilege is a useful concept in this context.  I can tell Laurie Penny was trying to do a good job, but the formulation of “being a woman means you have less privilege than a ceterus paribus man, full stop”, while largely or entirely true, is incredibly common, and did not move the conversation forward. It reminded me of a Fixed Argumentation Pattern, wherein people make the same arguments in the same ways regardless of what ideas they’re actually confronting.

A facebook group

A facebook group

What would I have liked to see? I would liked to have seen the kind of feminism that I and a (small? but hopefully growing? it’s so hard to know) community of people adhere to, one that goes hand in hand with our goals of truth and accuracy. We attempt to utilize all of the tools of science and aspiring rationalism to collect evidence, think critically about ideological claims, and land wherever the data and best argumentation takes us, even when it’s inconvenient or unpalatable. It’s a feminism that is willing to use explanations of ideas in place of potentially unproductive jargon. It’s a feminism that acknowledges it does not have the only useful model and the only claims to truth. It’s a feminism that sees critiques of its claims as reasons to do more research and argue better (or change its mind), rather than as attacks from The Enemy. Such a feminism would have taken Dr. Aaronson’s pain seriously and been more compassionate, because it would have known that he was not the enemy. (A guy who is on board with 97% of feminism (possibly more than me) is not doing a particularly good job as an enemy of feminism.) It would have asked itself, if it believed in feminism so strongly, why good ideas were leading to bad outcomes and what that meant about feminist strategy. It would have acknowledged that the growing body of confessions of people, specifically nerdy men, in pain, is data, and that data needs to be incorporated if the theory is to remain robust. Part 2: Alternate Responses: Some suggestions My first response to reading about all this was a veritable stream of consciousness of questions. In a more organized fashion, here are some thoughts I would want my feminism to explore What’s going on with this pain?

  1. Is it just that the feminist ideals of consent and respect for women’s autonomy have been badly conveyed or communicated?

No doubt that this is true in some cases, since not everyone in the world is a good communicator, but is that enough to explain all of it?

  1. Is it an issue of strategy, where we have focused on what bad consent looks like and not enough on what good men and good consent look like?

I can think of several examples of positive discussion, but perhaps they are not widespread enough, or are not being communicated well (see #1)

  1. Are the men suffering from this simply over-scrupulous, that is, they suffer from the sense that they must achieve moral perfection and lambast themselves if they fail?

If so, this has relatively less to do with feminism. Such scrupulosity (and over scrupulosity) can be found in Effective Altruism circles and highly religious environments (where the term comes from), to name just a few. That said, Effective Altruists are at least trying to undermine that aspect of their messaging, and I am on record saying that purity, and its attendant request for perfection, is a shitty moral foundation and we should eschew it whenever possible. Feminism can and should do the same. Not least, it’s worth adding, if some of the people most hurt by feminist messaging are the people trying the hardest to do good and hating themselves for not getting it right enough, something is probably going wrong. Scrupulous people are the best, let’s please not make them hate themselves.

  1. Is it an unfortunate but necessary side effect of spreading the right messages to everyone else?

Every social message engages with the tension between who it will reach and who the optimal audience is. If your social circle really needs to be more X, and so you start spreading X messages far and wide, you might be hitting people who ought or could be less X. It’s possible that the optimal way to spread feminism sadly involves the pain of the more scrupulous (if we combined this with #3, someone might point out that scrupulous people are most at risk for bad effects from any message imploring people to do better).  If that’s true, so be it, but arguing that the current equilibrium constructed on the base of passionate, angry, self-interested actors + the internet (i.e. Moloch’s playground) is optimal, like, the actual highest point on the highest mountain of what feminism could be would take some serious work and my prior for it is somewhere around 10%.

This may also just be a question of competing access needs, in which there is no way to make a safe space for everyone, because people have different needs. Feminists might need spaces to be communally harsh and critical of injustices. Scrupulous people might need a safe haven from that kind of criticism, which will harm them more than help them. Aspiring rationalists might need a place where everything can be criticized, including feminism itself. And people at the intersections are probably going to have a hard time. In fact, this issue is evidence that they are having a hard time, and I hope this opens up the space a little.

  1. Is there a vicious undercurrent of feminist thought and thinkers that don’t take seriously the pain of people they consider privileged?

Many seem to think so, some of whom are dedicated to battling feminism in ways just as if not more unproductive and obnoxious than what they’re criticizing, and some of whom may have more of a point. It only takes looks at some of the ways that feminists are themselves attacked by other feminists to feel uneasy about some of the discourse. And of course this may just be a human problem, not a feminism problem, though feminism might still want to clean house. It’s also worth pointing out that feminism and social justice sometimes argue for the reasonableness of uncivil argumentation. My natural inclination to steelman means that that doesn’t end the conversation for me, but it does suggestively point out a problem.

Part 3: The Future I wanted to write a response to the Laurie Penny article as soon as I was asked what I thought and ended up writing a four paragraph Facebook comment. But I wanted to write this particular piece, wherein I have tried to outline the feminism that makes sense to me and bring others on board for an additional reason. In the comments of a blog post discussing these events, I saw a call to action, asking for feminists to speak up and demonstrate their allegiance to compassion and evidence and self-criticism. It’s anyone’s guess how necessary that is; I don’t feel that all the feminism that has come before me has been uncommitted to truth or evidence or rationality, and it is utterly ridiculous to believe that I am starting or leading something completely new. All of us are thoroughly indebted to the people who have been doing feminist and other justice-related work all along, but there’s also an evolving need for a different kind of space. Something is happening, and I want to be part of the group that stays a part of feminism, that remains embedded in the same issues and fights, but also changes and adapts more readily, using tools of thinking that already exist. My feminism will be accurate, or I can’t do it anymore.


(1) I was wrong here. I focused on the parts of Dr. Aaronson’s posts that I found most important, that I thought were most important to respond to, and forgot about the others. Laurie Penny oviously responded more to the privilege aspects, which I still argue is unhelpful, but is a reasonable choice. Mea Culpa. Possibly related posts

Pictures of cute animals make things better

37 thoughts on “Feminism and The Search for Truth

  1. Julia says:

    Thank you. I’ve spent this week feeling really conflicted about what it means to be both a feminist and pro-nerd (if not all that nerdy myself anymore). It’s nice to see other people saying it is actually possible to be both, or at least committing to try.

    • Chana says:

      Definitely. It’s so interesting to me that there are people (like you, I’m thinking) who identify as nerds in a way that they get offended when people criticize the culture. I’m not that way, but I think it’s really important to think about and recognize. What I do identify strongly with is aspiring to good thinking, and when my ingroup does things I think are bad thinking, I get *very* uncomfortable.

      But yes, it definitely is, and there are others in this camp. Including, it’s worth adding, people who are more sympathetic to the Laurie Penny article than I am. They might be fiercely defending a certain feminist approach, but many of them (like Laurie Penny!) are still nerds. I really have hope we’ll all work it out.

  2. orthonormal says:

    This is the only post in the whole conversation that I would feel comfortable linking. Thank you so much for humanizing everyone in the fracas.

  3. Dave says:

    Nerdy white males have always been scared of asking women out – this per se is nothing new. So a question to examine might be: how much of this pain expressed by nerdy white males today is caused by “feminist messages” and how much is caused by existing social messages?
    I’ve always seen one goal of feminism as the criticism of existing sexual roles with the aim of improving relations between women and men to the advantage of both. So another question might be: how well are feminist movements achieving this goal?

    • Chana says:

      I agree completely. And many of the feminists I know are committed to breaking down all harmful gender roles, including those, like compulsory and toxic masculinity, that are perhaps most at fault for the pain the men in question feel. I feel confident in saying that the portion of pain felt by the men that is a direct cause of feminists or feminism is small, but I still don’t like to see feminists doing it or defending it.

  4. Paul F. says:

    Haven’t read this blog in a long time, but Kate posted it on Facebook. Anyway, this piece is fabulous. The way you think is fiercely independent, rigorous, and compassionate. It’s really refreshing to see that there is someone out there who can pull of that combination.

  5. Ampersand says:

    Although I’m 90% in agreement with what you write here, I think you’re unfair to Laurie Penny’s article.

    For example, she didn’t say Aaronson is the enemy, let alone the worst enemy of feminism ever; she didn’t imply any such thing.

    You write that Penny’s approach “was kind of a non sequitur, since Dr. Aaronson didn’t bring up anything about patriarchy or privilege.” You’re mistaken. Aaronson brought up male privilege (arguing that it is ridiculous to suggest that he’s had any). This was clearly an important context for Penny’s article, since Penny quoted it at the top of her article, labeling it “the key quote.”

    You seem to be saying that we should read Scott Aaronson with charity, and I agree. But I think you could examine whether your reading of Penny’s article was fair and used similar charity.

    • Chana says:

      You’re certainly right that she didn’t take that tone about Aaronson at all; I was implying that a different sector of feminist response (more Amanda Marcotte) had done so, I’m sorry it was unclear.

      You’re also absolutely right about my mistake. I had read the comment and thought about it a lot, and in so doing focused only on the part I thought was of maximum importance (the story) and forgotten about the privilege aspect. Laurie Penny, quite reasonably, focused her attentions the other way. Robby Bensinger writes here (http://nothingismere.com/2015/01/05/nerd-justice/) that many of us are guilty of this, especially in this particular case. I have edited my post to reflect that correction and attendant thoughts. Thank you.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        “Male Privilege” can mean several things.

        MP1: A greater ease in finding good jobs, high pay and positions of formal power.

        MP2: An unfair amount of power over women in interpersonal and romantic relationships.

        I think that when Aaronson doubts his male privilege he is talking only about MP2.

        I have often thought the same thing: I clearly have absolutely zero power over women. How can that possibly be too much?

  6. Chris says:

    Hi, I’m new here, so hello! I’m going to disagree with you on a few points, so sorry. Interesting read though, as I’ve been following some of this debate and I’m struggling to get my head around it. (I’m a male heterosexual nerd, btw.)

    – I’m not sure we can talk in terms ‘data’ and empiricism wrt Aaronson’s story. It was an anecdote, albeit a personal one, and is basically his subjective response to some feminist ideas. And, to put it bluntly, much of what we describes is fairly irrational. This is not intended as a put down – a lot of our feelings are irrational – but it is hard to have a broad discussion about feminism, or any other school of thought, based on the associations one particular person has with it.
    – “Dr. Aaronson didn’t bring up anything about patriarchy or privilege” Actually he did. From the original comment – “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 various others. I think he’s (possibly inadvertently) making a good point about the concept of privilege, and in particular it’s limitations when someone is a member of both a privileged and non-privileged group, but he definitely raised the issue. That said…
    – To me the real limitation or Aaronson’s comment, and what Perry’s response highlighted so well, is that he focuses on the experiences of male nerds so much, seemingly without considering that female nerds might go through similar experiences. Part of the problem seems to be that he links this so strongly to feminism as the explanation for what he went through that the experience seems to become essentially male to him. He seems to conflate a fairly general experience of feeling guilty about your sexual desires, and feeling unworthy of someone reciprocating them, with feminist messages about sexual harassment, as if they were the same thing. Indeed, if he had considered female nerds’ experiences he may have come up with a more solid theory.
    – “But to address someone expressing the pain they felt as a result of trying to take feminist ideas seriously by offering them yet more of the same is a failing, in ethics and in thinking” I disagree that it is more of the same. One of her points is that the messages he was taking from feminism (and Andrea Dworkin probably wasn’t helpful here) aren’t all there is to feminism, and that it is possible to have feminist discussions about things like objectification and sexual harassment without saying that male heterosexual desire is a bad thing. Plus breaking down of strict gender roles would be good for shy nerdy teenage boys – for starters girls would be able to make the first move, something I am personally immensely grateful for.
    – I have to say that while some of the responses to Aaronson may seem harsh, I can understand women being wary when they talk about sexual harassment (and that was the context of his comment) and men bring up how they couldn’t get a girlfriend at school. These things are not alike.
    – I completely agree that pictures of cute animals do indeed make things better.

    Sorry that was so long. Thanks.

    • Chana says:

      Welcome! Thank you for your time, thoughts and disagreement.

      – You’re right that we don’t know, and someone said something similar on my facebook wall, so you are certainly not the only one to think so. And if it were just Dr. Aaronson, there wouldn’t be a lot to say. But I think there’s more than that. Did you click on the links? Scott Alexander has a piece called Radicalizing the Romanceless, there is this guy (http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2013/04/make_your_own_b.html) who says he speaks to many men about getting feminism out of their lives (so that’s the kind of thing that leads me to believe there are potential effects) and in general there is a bevy of articles about the entitlement of white male nerds, so we’re not lacking for a cause. But sure, it could be all for naught. Even if that’s true, I wish I had seen more of a response along those lines – empirical ones rather than deontological ones about who does and doesn’t have privilege.

      I don’t know why you say that we can’t talk about data and empiricism at all. Do you mean just about this story? Because I think we could probably look into research or start collecting data that do tell a broader story. But even without that, my priors are definitely updating in favor of this actually being a problem.

      – You’re entirely right. I focused on what I thought was important and forgot to address the whole issue. From above: I had read the comment and thought about it a lot, and in so doing focused only on the part I thought was of maximum importance (the story) and forgotten about the privilege aspect. Laurie Penny, quite reasonably, focused her attentions the other way. Robby Bensinger writes here (http://nothingismere.com/2015/01/05/nerd-justice/) that many of us are guilty of this, especially in this particular case. I have edited my post to reflect that correction and attendant thoughts. My fault

      – That’s interesting. I thought he made a pretty specific case about how feminism either caused or exacerbated his feelings of guilt. “You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year…Of course, I was smart enough to realize that maybe this was silly, maybe I was overanalyzing things. So I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my 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.”
      But it’s certainly true that he could be simply mistaken. I guess my point here is that I actually don’t think lightening up some of the nerd-specific rhetoric (or at least making it more rigorous), combined with creating more language about Tell Culture/nerdy/straightforward/direct ways to be good at consent (instead of making it all about “this is the bad stuff, the good stuff is easy, just ask!”, which I think is especially hard for nerds) would be that hard, so I think we should do it, and definitely lay off the viciousness.

      • Chris says:

        Thanks for that. Some thoughts in response:

        – I’ve read Radicalizing the Romanceless and some of Alexander’s other stuff. This would be a much longer post if i went into all the problems I have with his arguments.

        – “Do you mean just about this story?” Yes. I was just trying to make the old “the plural of anecdote isn’t data” point. We certainly could get data with some good research though.

        – “I thought he made a pretty specific case about how feminism either caused or exacerbated his feelings of guilt.” He certainly attributed his feelings of guilt to feminism, but we are only getting the feminist messages he picked up through the filter of his interpretation of them. Are there really all these mainstream feminists going around telling men that they should feel guilty about having any sexual desires? Like I said, to me his beliefs are fairly irrational, yet he seems to draw a straight line from feminism to these irrational beliefs without giving us many useful specifics of what he was reading/seeing/etc to go on.

        I’ll take two of the details he does give us:

        1. He says one of his favourite feminists books was Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse because he likes “howls of anguish much more than bureaucratic boilerplate”. Expanding on a point made in my first comment, he says he “…scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were…”. Well, I personally wouldn’t recommend Dworkin is he’s looking for reassurance. With any piece of literature you have to take into account the intended audience and the purpose for which it was written, and radical feminist polemics are not there to reassure him.

        2. The sexual assault prevention workshops he went to gave him “enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year”. Now it’s certainly possible that the people running these workshops could improve their message, but by this stage he had had a long period of guilt and paranoia, and this had to have been affecting his interpretation of the message. Guilty people are very prone to thinking things are about them personally (a theme running through much of what he says). A lot of people manage to get through these workshops without anything like the reaction he had.

        Part of the reason I suspect that there was a thick layer of interpretation on top of the messages he was hearing is the way he uses “privilege” as if it were a personal failing of which he was expected to be ashamed, rather than a description of his relative position in one particular social hierarchy.

        To me he seems to be conflating two different things – the fact that society in general looks down on nerds and tends to tell us that we should be mocked for having normal sexual desires, and feminist discussions about unwanted sexual advances. These are not the same, but if you put them together I can see how they would create a catch-22, if you assume that your feelings for someone else would never be reciprocated therefore you are bad for even having them.

        And this is where I think is it such a shame that he seems to oblivious to the problems that nerdy girls face (and in fact to their very existence). If he considered this he might have a better perspective on the problem.

        Having said all that…

        I think there is something very useful in Aaronson’s essay. A lot of social and political discussions talk about power differences in society in terms of gender, race, class, sexuality etc, essentially factors relating to all the various political and social movements of recent times, but ignore the social dynamics that make nerds lives miserable at times. In short, nerds aren’t an oppressed class, so are considered fair game.

        Some of the more abrasive feminist commentary doesn’t take this into account. It tends to talk about ‘men’ as if we are a general group, when in fact the men that will be most affected by this are the ones that don’t get the full benefits of male privilege. Recently there has been a tendency to complain about ‘white men’ or ‘straight white cishet men’ or whatever in recognition of the fact that men can be oppressed too, but nerds are never considered in that category.

        I think male privilege definitely does exist among nerds too, but feminists need to recognise that nerdy men don’t get it easy, just as nerdy men need to recognise that nerdy women exist and get it harder than they do.

        Sorry, that was quite long again.

        • vintermann says:

          > And this is where I think is it such a shame that he seems to oblivious to the problems that nerdy girls face

          > nerdy women exist and get it harder than they do.

          What exactly do you mean by nerdy girls here? and aren’t you engaging in a little oppression olympics with the second statement?

          Nerdy can mean different things. Let me share anecdotes about two very different types of nerdy women I’ve met.

          There was a colleague programmer, let’s call her A. She was a hardcore fan of the dvorak keyboard layout and the vim text editor, in a shop where we mostly used IDEs. Her language of choice was Perl. Linux distro was Gentoo. I don’t remember the window manager, but it was certainly not KDE or Gnome. She had nerd cred up the wazoo. Go to her with a technical problem, you might get an eye roll, but you’d get an answer, usually an excellent explanation too. She’d have a good understanding of what you knew and didn’t, and was not condescending in explaining things.

          She was also perfectly assertive and confident, and looked people straight in the eye. She was hardly introvert. She was not at all socially unaware, although I think she liked to work in a place where informality was OK. This, to me, is not surprising at all – if she wasn’t confident, she probably wouldn’t have wanted to be a woman in a male-dominated industry at all. In the same way, the male nurses I’ve known have been exceptionally confident and competent people, but I digress.

          That was A. Then there was B, a friend via a friend. She was a music student, which is, by the way, a women-dominated field of study these days. Hours and hours of practicing alone. Picky eater – in her own words, she subsisted almost entirely on a tasteless type of rye crackers. We did the test to see if she was a supertaster, and sure enough, she was (hypersensitivites like these are common on the autistic spectrum, which is why I mention it). As for social graces, she bit her fingers – not just nails, fingers – until they bled. She was aware that this was sort unappealing, had a peculiar form of self-irony about it (“Hi, my name is B and I’m a cannibal” was the first thing she said to the friend I knew her through) but she didn’t really know how to stop. She eventually overcame it with typically nerdy “life hack” cognitive tricks, plus a deliberately bitter-tasting nail polish made for the purpose.

          I think that, the type of nerdiness that really hobbles you is B’s type, not A’s type. I’m sure A faced challenges too, in particular challenges associated with being a woman in a man-dominated profession. And by far, most of her male colleagues (including me) were “only” nerds in the same way as her – in the interest sense first, in the brain peculiarity sense second, if at all.

          But Aaronson? He’s more of B’s type. Not that being B-ish doesn’t have advantages – Aaronson became an MIT professor after all, and my friend passed through the needle’s eye to become a professional musician on the first try. But those things came at a cost, and I’d say it’s up to us more “neutotypical” people to try to be understanding, and try not to accidentally make life hard for them.

          And let’s not confuse A’s woes with B’s, or try to make them bigger with theories of privilege hierarchies. They are both worth addressing.

          • Chana says:

            It’s definitely true that “nerdy” has been code for shy, socially awkward, low in social skills, etc. in this conversation, and those aspects are probably more relevant than whether you have academic interests. That’s why one of the questions worth exploring is how much of anti-nerd sentiment can be productively analyzed through the lens of anti-mental illness stigma and how hard it is to get by if you have low social skills.

          • Chris says:

            “What exactly do you mean by nerdy girls here?”

            I’m using nerdy in the same sense Aaronson does. B-type nerds in your example.

            “and aren’t you engaging in a little oppression olympics with the second statement?”

            I’m not a big fan of the phrase “oppression olympics”. It’s too often used as a label in place of an actual argument. Some people do get it worse than others, and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that. In fact it’s often important to do so in order to make a realistic assessment of a problem. This isn’t a matter of only addressing some people’s problems, but quite the opposite – we can’t address everyone’s problems if we pretend that some of them don’t exist or are no worse than others.

            In any case one of my main issues with Aaronson’s argument was that he seems to identify his experiences as specifically male, when they’re not. In fact one of his main points, attributing his feelings of guilt to feminism, only really makes sense if you exclude the experiences of women from the equation. Given all this, and the fact that he discussed his experiences as a response to women talking about sexual harassment, and I would argue that the “oppression olympics” had already begun, I’m just trying to broaden the perspective.

  7. davidgerard says:

    >(and Andrea Dworkin probably wasn’t helpful here)

    I must note that there has been no evidence that Aaronson has read a word of Dworkin. (My impression is that he is responding to a straw-Dworkin, of unclear provenance.)

    • Chris says:

      I was basing this on Aaronson’s comment:
      “I’ve read at least a dozen feminist books, of which my favorite was Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse (I like howls of anguish much more than bureaucratic boilerplate, so in some sense, the more radical the feminist, the better I can relate).”

  8. […] Chana Messinger raises the possibility that the harm inflicted on some scrupulous people could be “an unfortunate but necessary side effect of spreading the right messages to everyone else”. To know whether that’s so, we’ll need to investigate how common a problem this is, and whether there are easy ways to avoid it. At this stage, however, relatively few people have acknowledged this concern. I certainly wasn’t aware of it until recently, and am now having to rethink some of my rhetorical tactics. […]

  9. carlosthedwarf says:

    I think you’re assuming, erroneously, that Aronson is correct about the negative influence of feminist ideology on his life. If Aronson is wrong about that, then this whole post makes no sense–while we might be better about demonstrating sympathy for wrong ideas, we have no more responsibility to incorporate parts of them into our own thinking, than we do to incorporate young earth creationism into high school biology curricula.

    • vintermann says:

      You’re questioning a fairly direct experience of his here. He says that he felt awful about his gender/sexuality, that he studied feminist writings in the hope of finding someone who would say that wasn’t warranted, but found that they by and by did think it warranted.

      So how is he wrong? is he lying? Is he wrong about his feelings? Or maybe there is some obvious, popular feminist text he could/should have read, that would tell him to relax and don’t worry and be comfortable and confident about his gender/sexuality?

    • Chana says:

      It’s definitely possible that that’s true. And I’m on record saying that “However strong or weak the case for nerd oppression, the case for nerd oppression by feminists is an order of magnitude or two weaker.” I don’t think this is all feminism or feminists’ fault. I think we shouldn’t make it worse, given that it is hard to be a low social skills and neuroatypical person. And I especially want to be wary of making it worse since, as many have pointed out, feminism has so many ways of making it BETTER, through undermining compulsory and toxic masculinity, making it easier for women to ask men out without being shamed, etc.

  10. […] Chana Messinger raises the possibility that the harm inflicted on some scrupulous people could be “an unfortunate but necessary side effect of spreading the right messages to everyone else”. To know whether that’s so, we’ll need to investigate how common a problem this is, and whether there are easy ways to avoid it. At this stage, however, relatively few people have acknowledged this concern. I certainly wasn’t aware of it until recently, and am now having to rethink how I talk about moral issues. […]

  11. […] Chana Messinger raises the possibility that the harm inflicted on some scrupulous people could be “an unfortunate but necessary side effect of spreading the right messages to everyone else”. To know whether that’s so, we’ll need to investigate how common a problem this is, and whether there are easy ways to avoid it. At this stage, however, relatively few people have acknowledged this concern. I certainly wasn’t aware of it until recently, and am now having to rethink how I talk about moral issues. […]

  12. person says:

    People dislike Laci Green because a) she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about, b) is dimissive when she’s taken to task and won’t apologize, and c) she nevertheless still feels entitled to make a career out of “teaching” people about feminism. She is a salesperson “using” feminism to promote herself.

    The death threats against her are of course are completely unacceptable, but aren’t surprising if you look where they came from.

    • Chana says:

      Could you link me to a set of examples of the behavior you’re pointing out? I don’t know of evidence that Laci is this bad, but I’d love to hear it.

  13. This is a tough one. If Dr. Aaronson says that feminism is the reason he was miserable and couldn’t talk to women that’s a plainly false statement. It’s also a kind of slander. The above article says we shouldn’t point out the parts where Dr Aaronson was wrong but instead look for productive solutions. However the above also rightly points out that truth is vital. If Dr Aaronsons understanding of the world informs him that feminism caused/causes him misery then that’s plainly not the truth. His misery was and is real but he’s looking in the wrong direction for the cause. Therefor if we were to follow this articles advice nothing would change for the better for him as any fixing of the problem is going to be aimed at feminism and not the actual problem. Some anecdotal evidence to put against his anecdotal evidence. I have two friends who were given poor marks in school exams due to the fact that they were women. One because, “boys mature at a slower rate so it’s only fair” and the other because the teacher didn’t think it was worth the effort teaching maths to girls. Both happened in my lifetime. As the article points out for Dr Aaronson to state that he didn’t have privilege and that it would have been easier to be a woman is an error. And if we gloss over the error and leave it unchallenged we are going to make it impossible to make life better for him and others like him.

    • Dissonant says:

      Well, then it’s a good thing those statements of his were challenged and he did seem to come recognize he did and does have male privilege. (per comments later in that thread and subsequent blog posts and attendant comment threads).
      A clarification – Dr. Aaronson never stated that it would be have been easier to be a woman, gay man, or asexual; he merely relates that during his time of misery about his desire that’s what he fantasized. It was so frustrating to see people over and over attack him for failing to consider the reality of those identities.

  14. Greg says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It is definitely, by far, the most productive response to this whole mess that I have read.

    One question though: is continuing to retrospect this conversation going to be helpful, or is it simply likely to cause more harm than good? Can we induce a phase change to pure future-society-building through projection and negotiation without rehashing the various reflections of the past month/year/millennium?

    • Chana says:

      Thanks very much!

      That’s a great question. I think on the pro side that people tend to read articles about controversies, especially if those controversies are taking place in their ingroup, so if you want people to read something, now is the time to strike. Also, I find it helpful to use salient examples that everyone will know in order to make a point. The general trend (the best version that I’ve seen, anyway), seems to be to use the controversy to make a point, and then hopefully expand on it in future. But I don’t know! What do you think?

  15. gregq says:

    “I saw Laurie Penny addressing primarily the question of whether Dr. Aaronson was less privileged than his female counterparts (no, and I’m glad she pointed that out)”

    Really? Where’s the Society for Men Engineers? Where’s the scholarships for men in STEM? There’s more women than men in Med school, where’s the affirmative action to bring balance?

    You want a social life while in STEM? Who has an easier time getting a date? Hint, it’s not the guys.

    How many nerd girls get beaten up for being nerds? How many male nerds?

    • Dissonant says:

      The women in STEM do not have, and cannot receive, “male privilege”. Any benefit the individuals do get through special considerations such as targeted scholarships and advocacy of the SWE does not compensate or create a STEM-specific “female privilege” analogous to the broad male privilege. The cultural “male privilege” is what Aaronson felt he didn’t have because of the oppression of young nerds. In subsequent posts he expressed that he had come to understand through the dialog on his blog that he does have male privilege, as every man living in our culture does, regardless of other discrimination or personal oppression they experience. Having been a teen-age nerd no longer disadvantages Aaronson, the tenured MIT professor; being a man does still give him the same advantages every other man has in our culture. .

  16. Tom says:

    Laurie Penny is a joke.

  17. “Is it an unfortunate but necessary side effect of spreading the right messages to everyone else?”

    Sorry, but I decline to be the collateral damage in some stranger’s little psychic war.

  18. Blargle says:

    Disgusting. It’s as if “rationalists” lose any ability to defend their minds against parasitical ideologies.

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