What I believe

Two weeks ago, prompted by a commenter named Amy, I wrote by far the most personal thing I’ve ever made public—what’s now being referred to in some places as just “comment 171.”  My thinking was: I’m giving up a privacy that I won’t regain for as long as I live, opening myself to ridicule, doing the blog equivalent of a queen-and-two-rook sacrifice.  But at least—and this is what matters—no one will ever again be able to question the depth of my feminist ideals.  Not after they understand how I clung to those ideals through a decade when I wanted to die.  And any teenage male nerds who read this blog, and who find themselves in a similar hole, will know that they too can get out without giving up on feminism. Surely that’s a message any decent person could get behind?

Alas, I was overoptimistic.  Twitter is now abuzz with people accusing me of holding precisely the barbaric attitudes that my story was all about resisting, defeating, and escaping, even when life throws you into those nasty attitudes’ gravity well, even when it tests you as most of your critics will never be tested.  Many of the tweets are full of the courageous clucks of those who speak for justice as long as they’re pretty sure their friends will agree with them: wow just wow, so sad how he totes doesn’t get it, expletives in place of arguments.  This whole affair makes me despair of the power of language to convey human reality—or at least, of my own ability to use language for that end.  I took the most dramatic, almost self-immolating step I could to get people to see me as I was, rather than according to some preexisting mental template of a “privileged, entitled, elite male scientist.”  And many responded by pressing down the template all the more firmly, twisting my words until they fit, and then congratulating each other for their bravery in doing so.

Here, of course, these twitterers (and redditors and facebookers) inadvertently helped make my argument for me.  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?

Thankfully, not everyone responded with snarls.  Throughout the past two weeks, I’ve been getting regular emails from shy nerds who thanked me profusely for sharing as I did, for giving them hope for their own lives, and for articulating a life-crushing problem that anyone who’s spent a day among STEM nerds knows perfectly well, but that no one acknowledges in polite company.  I owe the writers of those emails more than they owe me, since they’re the ones who convinced me that on balance, I did the right thing.

I’m equally grateful to have gotten interesting, compassionate responses from feminist women.  The most striking was that of Laurie Penny in the New Statesman—a response that others of Penny’s views should study, if they want to understand how to win hearts and change minds.

I do not intend for a moment to minimise Aaronson’s suffering. Having been a lonely, anxious, horny young person who hated herself and was bullied I can categorically say that it is an awful place to be. I have seen responses to nerd anti-feminism along the lines of ‘being bullied at school doesn’t make you oppressed.’ Maybe it’s not a vector of oppression in the same way, but it’s not nothing. It burns. It takes a long time to heal.

Feminism, however, is not to blame for making life hell for ‘shy, nerdy men.’ Patriarchy is to blame for that. It is a real shame that Aaronson picked up Dworkin rather than any of the many feminist theorists and writers who manage to combine raw rage with refusal to resort to sexual shame as an instructive tool. Weaponised shame- male, female or other- has no place in any feminism I subscribe to. Ironically, Aronson [sic] actually writes a lot like Dworkin- he writes from pain felt and relived and wrenched from the intimate core of himself, and because of that his writing is powerfully honest, but also flawed …

What fascinates me about Aaronson’s piece, in which there was such raw, honest suffering, was that there was not one mention of women in any respect other than how they might relieve him from his pain by taking pity, or educating him differently. And Aaronson is not a misogynist. Aaronson is obviously a compassionate, well-meaning and highly intelligent man [damn straight—SA]

I’ll have more to say about Penny’s arguments in a later post—where I agree and where I part ways from her—but there’s one factual point I should clear up now.  When I started writing comment 171, I filled it with anecdotes from the happier part of my life (roughly, from age 24 onward): the part where I finally became able to ask; where women, with a frequency that I couldn’t have imagined as a teenager, actually answered ‘yes’; and where I got to learn about their own fears and insecurities and quirks.  In the earlier draft, I also wrote about my wife’s experiences as a woman in computer science, which differed from Amy’s in some crucial ways.  But then I removed it all, for a simple reason: because while I have the right to bare my own soul on my blog, I don’t have the right to bare other people’s unless they want me to.

Without further ado, and for the benefit of the world’s Twitterariat, I’m now just going to state nine of my core beliefs.

1. I believe that women are authors of their own stories, that they don’t exist merely to please men, that they are not homogeneous, that they’re not slot machines that ‘pay out’ but only if you say the right things.  I don’t want my two-year-old daughter to grow up to be anyone else’s property, and I’m happy that she won’t.  And I’d hope all this would no more need to be said, than (say) that Gentiles shouldn’t be slaughtered to use their blood in making matzo.

2. I believe everyone’s story should be listened to—and concretely, that everyone should feel 300% welcome to participate in my comments section.  I don’t promise to agree with you, but I promise to try to engage your ideas thoughtfully, whether you’re a man, woman, child, AI-bot, or unusually-bright keyboard-pecking chicken.  Indeed, I spend a nontrivial fraction of my life doing exactly that (well, not so much with chickens).

3. I believe no one has the right to anyone else’s sexual affections.  I believe establishing this principle was one of the triumphs of modern civilization.

4. I believe women who go into male-dominated fields like math, CS, and physics deserve praise, encouragement, and support.  But that’s putting the point too tepidly: if I get to pick 100 people (unrelated to me) to put onto a spaceship as the earth is being destroyed, I start thinking immediately about six or seven of my female colleagues in complexity and quantum computing.  And no, Twitter: not because being female, they could help repopulate the species.  Just because they’re great people.

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.

6. I believe that even if they don’t hold views anything like the above (as, overwhelmingly, they don’t), there might be nerdy males who unintentionally behave in ways that tend to drive some women away from science.  I believe this is a complicated problem best approached with charity: we want win-win solutions, where no one is made to feel despised because of who they are.  Toward that end, I believe open, honest communication (as I’ve been trying to foster on this blog) is essential.

7. I believe that no one should be ashamed of inborn sexual desires: not straight men, not straight women, not gays, not lesbians, not even pedophiles (though in the last case, there might really be no moral solution other than a lifetime of unfulfilled longing).  Indeed, I’ve always felt a special kinship with gays and lesbians, precisely because the sense of having to hide from the world, of being hissed at for a sexual makeup that you never chose, is one that I can relate to on a visceral level.  This is one reason why I’ve staunchly supported gay marriage since adolescence, when it was still radical.  It’s also why the tragedy of Alan Turing, of his court-ordered chemical castration and subsequent suicide, was one of the formative influences of my life.

8. I believe that “the problem of the nerdy heterosexual male” is surely one of the worst social problems today that you can’t even acknowledge as being a problem—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. 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, and that right now seems about equally hard.

9. 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.  (That’s the thing about blogging: in for a penny, in for a post.)

Update (Dec. 31): I struggle always to be ready to change my views in light of new arguments and evidence. After reflecting on the many thoughtful comments here, there are two concessions that I’m now willing to make.

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. This might sound facetious, but it’s really not: I believe in the principle of always adopting the other side’s terms of reference, whenever doing so will facilitate understanding and not sacrifice what actually matters to you.

Smash the Patriarchy!

The second concession is that, all my life, I’ve benefited from male privilege, white privilege, and straight privilege. I would only add that, for some time, I was about as miserable as it’s possible for a person to be, so that in an instant, I would’ve traded all three privileges for the privilege of not being miserable. And if, as some suggested, there are many women, blacks, and gays who would’ve gladly accepted the other side of that trade—well then, so much the better for all of us, I guess. “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? If they’re not actively bothering each other, then why do we also need to spread person A’s stink over to person B and vice versa, by claiming they’re each “privileged” by not having the other one’s?

However, I now understand why so many people became so attached to that word: if I won’t use it, they think it means I think that sexism, racism, and homophobia don’t exist, rather than just that I think people fixated on a really bad way to talk about these problems.

Update (Jan. 1): Yesterday I gave a seminar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Since I’d been spending all my time dealing with comment-171-gate, I showed up with no slides, no notes, no anything—just me and the whiteboard. But for an hour and a half, I got to forget entirely about the thousands of people on the Internet I’d never met who were now calling me an asshole because of 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. 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. Someday I’ll say more about the inexhaustibly-fascinating topic of nerds and sex—and in particular, I’ll write the promised post about shy female nerds—but not now. This will be my last post on the subject for a while.

On balance, I don’t regret having shared my story—because it prompted an epic discussion; because I learned so much from the dozens of other nerd coming-of-age stories that it drew out, similar to mine but also different; because what I learned will change the way I talk about these issues in the future; and most of all, because so many people, men and women, emailed me to say how my speaking out gave them hope for their own lives. But I do regret a few rhetorical flourishes, which I should have known might be misread maliciously, though I could never have guessed how maliciously. 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?). I meant only that, if we’re going to discuss how to change the culture of STEM fields, or design sexual-conduct policies to minimize suffering, then I request a seat at the table not as the “white male powerful oppressor figure,” but as someone who also suffered something atypically extreme, overcame it, and gained relevant knowledge that way. I never meant to suggest that anyone else should leave the table.

To the people who tweeted that female MIT students should now be afraid to take classes with me: please check out the beautiful blog post by Yan, a female student who did take 6.045 with me. See also this by Lisa Danz and this by Chelsea Voss.

More broadly: thank you to everyone who sent me messages of support, but especially to all the female mathematicians and scientists who did so.  I take great solace from the fact that, of all the women and men whose contributions to the world I had respected beforehand, not one (to my knowledge) reacted to this affair in a mean-spirited way.

Happy New Year, everyone. May 2015 be a year of compassion and understanding.

Update (Jan. 2): If you’ve been following this at all, then please, please, please read Scott Alexander’s tour-de-force post. To understand what it was like for me to read this, after all I’ve been through the past few days, try to imagine Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, the American Declaration of Independence, John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women, and Clarence Darrow’s closing arguments in the Scopes trial all rolled into one, except with you as the protagonist. Reason and emotion are traditionally imagined as opposites, but that’s never seemed entirely right to me: while, yes, part of reason is learning how to separate out emotion, I never experience such intense emotion as when, like with Alexander’s piece, I see reason finally taking a stand, reason used to face down a thousand bullies and as a fulcrum to move the world.

Update (Jan. 13): Please check out this beautiful Quora answer by Jean Yang, a PhD student in MIT CSAIL. She’s answering the question: “What do you think of Scott Aaronson’s comment #171 and the subsequent posts?”

More generally, I’ve been thrilled by the almost-unanimously positive reactions that I’ve been getting these past two weeks from women in STEM fields, even as so many people outside STEM have responded with incomprehension and cruelty.  Witnessing that pattern has—if possible—made me even more of a supporter and admirer of STEM women than I was before this thing started.

615 Responses to “What I believe”

  1. Douglas Knight Says:

    History shows that “What I believe” are fighting words.

  2. Jai Dhyani Says:

    Thank you.

  3. john Says:

    >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

    I say this out of kindness, seriously, because believe me man, I’ve been there. I spent 12 years of primary and secondary school in constant state of fear and torment, but good lord, this is so far from reality that I cringed reading it. Yes, high school sucked. But it sucks for everyone in different ways. But once you’re in your 20s, life is amazing for nerdy hetero white dudes. I don’t have to worry about getting shot by a trigger happy cop when I get pulled over. I don’t get followed by security in grocery stores. People don’t harass me on the street every where I go. I get called in for job interviews. I’m always in the running for promotions. I don’t see how, as a really smart guy, you can be so mind-bogglingly clueless about how the world is for other people.

  4. Katie Says:

    So many people who write about what it’s like to work in silicon valley as a woman… generally have never been a woman working in silicon valley. I’m sure some people have had a bad time, but it seems like everyone takes it as a given that it’s just the worst place ever.

    For me, it was the best place ever. Maybe I chose where to work very well? I have no idea. But I was supported and mentored and treated better than school or academia ever did.

    If I were a young woman right now hearing about the horrors of silicon valley, I would probably choose not to go there. It becomes self-fulfilling.

    And to address Laurie’s stuff — yeah, that idea that people implied I wasn’t even a real woman resonates with me very strongly. In fact, that’s kinda why I adore shy male geeks. To them I was still a woman. Without them, I can’t imagine surviving being a teenager.

  5. Scott Says:

    john #3: I said ratio. All the other things you mentioned are serious problems, and are also widely understood to be serious problems. They have rallies, reputable organizations, academic attention. And every decent, liberal person knows that the people trying to solve the problems deserve praise rather than scorn. Do you not acknowledge that as a major difference?

  6. Juil Says:

    Though I did not experience the same things you did you so acutely, I really do appreciate you posting this. It has helped clear up and put into words many of the feelings I had growing up and will most definitely help me explain to the younger generation what they are going through.


  7. Jr Says:

    I congratulate you on being honest on these difficult issues.

    Personally the element of puritanism that can be found in some forms of feminism is rather offputting. Yes, formally it is not anti-sex, but then neither were the Puritans always anti-sex.

    But they do seem to share the view that even thinking impure thougts is a “sin” and expressing them is even worse.

  8. john Says:

    What problems exactly for nerdy white guys do you think need serious attention from society? From what I can tell in your posts, its largely bullying, which is not something unique to us. How exactly are the lives of nerdy guys being ‘ruined’, and what do you think that society should do about it to improve it? I’m a sysadmin at a huge tech company, and while everyone in my cubicle farm probably shares a similar childhood tale of bullying, tears, and trauma and years of failure with the opposite sex, I doubt that any of us would trade our lives now for the guys that bullied us in school.

  9. Scott Says:

    Katie #4: Thanks so much for sharing.

  10. Noah Stephens-Davidowitz Says:

    I agree with most of what you’re saying, and I feel bad for picking on the one point that I feel you got very wrong (especially since I suspect that I won’t be the only one to do it). But, here goes anyway.

    >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

    As a nerdy, heterosexual, guy who had an upper-middle-class upbringing, statements like this are obviously appealing to me. “The problem[s] of the nerdy heterosexual male” are naturally real to me in a way that “the problems of” various demographics whose plight is more commonly discussed—because I am a nerdy heterosexual male, know a lot of other nerdy heterosexual males, consume media that is targeted towards and/or written by nerdy heterosexual males.

    But, this is precisely why I consider myself to be unqualified to make such statements: I’m viscerally biased towards overweighting the problems of this demographic (as well as some others). I’d like to think that I’m a sufficiently empathetic person that I’m able to overcome such biases by putting myself in other people’s shoes, but in reality that’s probably not possible. Indeed, I actually think that, to the extent that answering such questions is relevant at all (i.e., when considering public policy or whatever).

    So, I mean no offense, but I just don’t think that you’re qualified to make such a statement, and I think that doing so risks hurting your case.

    (Incidentally, I know that you’re talking about a ratio here, and you’re largely just arguing that the denominator is low, but I think that it’s hard to make a case for such a metric. Obviously, the problems that rank “highest” on such a metric have a near-zero denominator (or a denominator of zero, depending on definitions), and it’s just not clear at all in general why division would be a reasonable thing to do here. I’m implicitly assuming that you mean this to be some sort of measure that considers both the current significance of the problem and the likely trajectory in the near-ish future.)

  11. Scott Says:

    Noah #10: The numerator is far from negligible here; reasonable people could disagree about how large. But yes, you’re right: the only reason why I felt confident in making that statement, is because I KNOW the denominator is essentially zero!

    Ultimately, though, I care about this for the same reason why the parent of a child with a rare disease, cares about curing that disease: not because it’s the world’s biggest problem, but because hardly anyone else cares and I have a reason to. And as I said in the other thread, now that I HAVE the freedom (both personal and professional) to say what I want, I’d feel like scum if cowardice prevented me from saying something that might help a teenage reader in the same situation as I was. It’s not like I have a lot to gain from this…

  12. James Miller Says:

    >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.

    While I loved comment 171, this statement greatly troubles me and I hope you retract it. It implies your supporting nasty things against people who have certain religious beliefs. My guess is that you don’t really believe this and, for example, you would oppose a constitutional amendment legalizing imprisoning people for having sexist beliefs.

  13. wolfgang Says:


    >> Twitter is now abuzz


    You have now become one of those 15min of (questionable) fame twitter ‘celebrities’.
    The majority of people will remember you now for ‘comment 171’ and perhaps if they find out about your ‘biting vaginas’ post, they can combine this into something even bigger …

    Once the attention fades away you can then return to be a D-Wave sceptic 😎

  14. Noah Stephens-Davidowitz Says:

    Scott #11: Sounds good to me.

  15. AfterMath Says:

    Without going into a point by point analysis of your post, I respect the fact that you decided to post this. One of the things that frustrates me about being a mathematician/computer scientist is the thought by some that a lack of desire to engage in political or non math/CS discussions means that we do not have opinions on these matters.

    And unfortunately in this online world, those of us who choose to voice an opinion, are often subject to a new form of bullying and name calling that seems only intent on keeping people silent.

    I think this (and the comment you refer to) was a courageous step and I commend you for it.

  16. Jacobtk Says:

    I found Penny’s response to your comments far less sympathetic. Instead of accepting what you stated about how feminism affected you, she shifted the blame to the preferred scapegoat of “the patriarchy”.

    I grew up around feminism. My aunt is a feminist, and I was exposed to what most feminists would call “second-wave” and early “third-wave” feminism. My aunt attempted to make me a feminist through various unpleasant methods. It did not work, but that is not my point.

    My point is, in the decade I lived with my aunt and the nearly two decades since, I cannot think of a single instance in which any feminist theory ever suggested that “the patriarchy” teaches men that simply speaking to women is tantamount to rape. That thinking is exclusive to feminism.

    Yet Penny rejects this obvious insight. I understand her motivation for doing so. She wanted to protect the ideology, so if that means dismissing and downplaying men’s experiences, so be it. Yet I also think that very common feminist response is one of the many reasons why feminism fails so often.

    I too was reminded of the words of my former co-blogger Hugh Ristik. There is simply no “winning” when it comes to men and feminism. In this sense, I am ironically fortunate I grew up with an abusive feminist. That gave me the wherewithal to question and reject the nonsensical ideology, although it did incidentally leave me rather distrustful of women and feminists.

  17. Scott Says:

    john #8: Excellent questions! First of all, though, I didn’t say anything about “white.” At the least, I’d guess that Asian males have these issues at least at the rate of whites, and there’s no reason why they can’t apply to any other ethnicity.

    Yes, stopping bullying is part of the answer. However, I’m far less interested in “bullying is bad” workshops (the kids already KNOW bullying is bad; the bullies simply don’t care!), than I am in segregating the nerdy kids: putting them in full-year MathCamp-like environments where they can socialize with their peers, and where the routes to status bear at least a vague resemblance to what they’ll be for the rest of the kids’ lives. (See Paul Graham’s Why Nerds Are Unpopular.)

    As I said, yes, I’d also like to have a conversation about how to reform the nerd-shaming, “NiceGuy”-shaming, “neckbeard”-shaming strain of modern feminism into something more constructive and humane, to produce a better feminism that all decent people could embrace 100%, not just 97%.

    There are lots of other ideas we could discuss, not one of which involves limiting women’s agency in any way (!). But in this case, simply acknowledging that the problem exists seems to me like an enormous first step.

  18. Callum Says:

    Something I fail to understand is why you and others describe this as a unique and largely unnoticed problem, which I think is partly why some readers have reacted incredulously. In particular, in what ways are the problems of young, white, nerdy males so unique that they are not covered by autism, asperger’s, anxiety disorders, depression and the like, all of which receive a great deal of academic and social attention?

    It seems to me like you’re trying to delineate a social group that doesn’t really exist: a sub-culture of painfully anxious shy men whose anxieties are caused solely by the nefarious actions of other people rather than entirely or even partly by their own mental illnesses (and I say this non-disparagingly as a borderline aspie male in a relationship with a card-carrying aspie male, both of us with several years of depression under our belts!).

    I anticipate you might say that these problems are separate from mental illness because they are caused by cultural forces such as patriarchal conceptions of masculinity rather than biological disorders. However, I believe there is an important distinction to be drawn when comparing with other types of cultural oppression in that, whereas all women and black people live with the legacies of sexism and racism and suffer its effects to varying degrees, I don’t see that all nerd-types suffer the effects of patriarchy. I think it *is* true that we live in a culture that gives some very bad messages to more vulnerable young men, but laying this at the door of your and others’ problems is rather like saying that video games cause mass shootings: these cultural influences are exploiters of vulnerability, not the causes of it, so there is a missing ingredient. It is the addition of some anxiety or depressive disorder that significantly impacts on the kinds of experiences you and others have had, so failing to see this, or outright denying the possibility of it, and instead imagining that you are of a uniquely underprivileged social class understandably riles people.

  19. Scott Says:

    James #12: Yes, you’re right, I’d strenuously oppose such an amendment. I was writing not from a legal standpoint but from a Godlike one, where I get to judge everyone’s ultimate moral worth.

  20. Shmi Nux Says:

    Scott, judging by the replies so far, it seems like your point 8 should be explicitly qualified, with or without the easily missed math:

    > “the problem of the nerdy heterosexual male” would surely be close to the top **of all serious but rarely acknowledged social problems**

    or something along these lines.

  21. Rio Says:


    Obviously your experiences had a great effect on you and I don’t think anyone is deliberately trying to minimize that.

    But what some people may feel (myself included) is that you may be lacking perspective. I think the reason behind some of the criticism you received is that you used your white-male-nerd-suffering as an argument for why you have no privilege. More precisely you state:

    “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.”

    To me, the claim that your white-male-nerd problems growing up mean you have no privilege is astounding and even insulting. Of course I understand you don’t mean it that way, but consider that many people (myself included) grew up not worrying about getting dates but worried about survival. For some it is economic survival for others it is physical survival. Black kids in the US grow up worried about getting killed and framed by cops. Poor kids worry about where they’ll sleep and if they’ll go to college. Gay kids have to hide who they really are from their own parents, siblings and friends.

    Sure, you didn’t have privilege with respect to dating, but you surely had privilege with respect to race, economics, gender and sexual preference.

    And the point is that privilege with respect to race, economics, sexual preference and gender is to most people a lot preferable than privilege with respect to dating. As Chris Rock once said: “None of these white guys would trade places with me; and I’m rich!”

    Finally, with respect to the fact that no one talks about white-male-nerd suffering. First, it’s not a structural/institutional problem. The fact that white-male-nerds have problems dating is not something that others can help you with.

    Second, it is not fundamentally unfair. The suffering of white-male-nerds is not a social justice issue. It’s a personal issue. Society doesn’t owe you success with women. But it does owe black kids a shot at a decent education and future and gay kids the right to be themselves.

  22. keith Says:

    You just have to big dick it. I’m autistic and some of my best friends are psychopaths, and we don’t worry about this stuff. Alpha males don’t have these problems (I quickly learned) so be the main man in the room, have at least *something* to back it up (skills or smarts), and stop secondguessing yourself. You get into more fights with men, and fewer creepy moments with women, this way. It’s a balancing act.

  23. Ian Says:

    Rio #21, I think part of the point is that Scott absolutely would have traded places with many of those people. Maybe afterwards he would have decided their situation sucks even worse and traded back, but maybe they would also feel the same way about his situation!

    Put another way, trade-places-with is not necessarily ordered. People have different values and preferences.

  24. Jay Gischer Says:

    To Scott: I think it’s helpful to realize that nobody owns feminism. Nobody gets to tell you that you are or aren’t a feminist. It isn’t an identity, as much as some would like it to be, and would like to dispense membership cards.

    Feminism is a set of ideas, and a very big tent. There’s huge disagreement within that tent. You are very comfortably within the tent. NOBODY has the power to throw you out. They can throw you out of their own tent, of course, but that’s separatism.

  25. Jay Gischer Says:

    @Rio For me, there’s a dichotomy. Male privilege is a real thing, and I’ve benefited from it. Privilege is an important lens to put on the world, as well. But it isn’t the only one, and it isn’t the only form of suffering.

    And arguments about my thoughts and invalidation of my feelings and lived experience couched as “that’s male privilege” are the worst. That’s just another way to say, “shut up, we’re not interested in you, even though you must be interested in us, or we will describe you as a horrible person.”

    I’ve learned to recognize this sort of discussion, which has become quite common on the internet, and just walk away from it. Nobody has to be interested in me, it’s not required. However, I’m feeling a lot less guilty about not engaging in places where they aren’t interested in me.

  26. Zack Says:

    Jamestk #16: From Penny’s perspective, blaming feminism for these problems is like blaming the immune system for death by fever, rather than blaming the disease (patriarchy) that necessitated the immune response.

  27. Jen Says:

    Followed this whole thing with much interest, and am eagerly anticipating your “solutions and recommendations for shy female nerds,” because, frankly, I’m quite skeptical. I’ve known (and was for some time) many, many women who were clever, sweet, brilliant, and nerdy who were simply invisible to the men in their classes, in whom they were deeply interested. Yes, they showed their interest. Yes, they flirted with said men. Why do you think they very rarely got any interest returned? I’ll give you one guess, and I want to see how that guess plays out in your answer to female nerds. Hint: the problem isn’t with the female nerds.

  28. Scott Says:

    Callum #18: I think one of the most important insights about ‘mental disorders’ is that they’re not properties of a person; they’re properties of a person together with their social environment. As a standard example, attention-deficit disorder has presumably always existed; it’s just that it never really mattered until a large fraction of the population had to spend day after day sitting still and concentrating on stuff.

    In the same way, as I said, someone with all the problems we’re talking about could be completely, 100% fine in a slightly-different social context—for example, one where there were clear, socially-accepted channels for courtship, so that nerdy males weren’t placed into a cruel Catch-22 where they had to break society’s rules in order to do the very things that society wanted them to do (e.g., settle down and get married). All over the Internet, I’m now being attacked for allegedly hankering for the days when you could just buy a bride and own her, whereas I thought it was obvious I was talking about a different courtship culture, not about restricting female choice in any way whatsoever. (I confess, I wasn’t prepared for how everything I wrote would get cruelly distorted, sometimes turned into its opposite, by those who, unlike Laurie Penny, lack the most basic humanity.)

    Anyway, that’s why I’m reluctant to describe this in terms of anxiety or some other straightforward mental disorder—because it’s elements of our culture that make the disorder a disorder!

    On a more practical level, it’s been my experience, and the experience of everyone else I’ve met, that psychologists and psychiatrists are profoundly unhelpful for this sort of problem. So if we did want to see it as a mental disorder, then at the least, I think psychologists would need to be much better trained in what to do about it.

  29. Scott Says:

    AfterMath #15 and Jay #24: Thanks so much.

  30. Rio Says:

    Ian #23: first let me stress that the reference to Chris Rock and trading places was meant as a joke. I did not mean to suggest to use trading-places-with is a metric of any kind.

    The issue with trading-places as a metric (besides being not ordered) is that most people have no idea of what the other side is like. This is particularly true in the US where people are still very segregated by race and class. Most middle-class white Americans have no clue what life is really like for non-white, poor and/or gay people.

    They really have no ideas of the difficulties and dysfunctions that come with being black and/or poor. I discovered this once I got to college and started having white middle-class friends and it still amazes me whenever I interact with my colleagues (I’m a researcher in CS).

    So I’m sure most male-nerds would claim that they would trade places but that’s exactly because they lack perspective and have no idea what they would be trading for.

  31. Scott Says:

    Rio #21: 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.

    Speaking of which, the idea that the average white person wouldn’t trade places with Chris Rock if given the chance, seems absurd to me. Sure, Chris Rock might get laughs by saying it (which is fine; he’s a professional comedian), and other people can sound politically savvy by repeating it, but it’s one of those things that I doubt anyone actually believes if they think about it enough, including Rock himself.

  32. Jon Says:

    Scott # 18 – the issue with the “different courtship culture” is that it was built on the back of denying women any real choices. The courtship culture was built around women finding men who could be good providers – because women were socially and legally restricted from providing for themselves.

  33. Rio Says:

    Scott #21: I think my comment #30 can serve as a response to your comment.

    The problem as I see it is your belief that you know what it’s like to be any of the people I listed. This seems incredibly arrogant to me and (in my opinion) is one of the main underlying reasons it is so difficult to talk about race and gender issues (I’m happy to go into this last point in more detail if you would like, but I don’t want to steer the conversation in a new direction).

    How could you possibly know what it’s like to be a black kid growing up in America? Or gay? Note that I’m assuming you didn’t have a lot of black and gay friends growing up, that you didn’t spend a lot of time in black neighborhoods and that you weren’t personally exposed to and witnessed some of the issues they have to deal with (if my assumption is wrong, then I’ll reconsider). Also, note that reading books about these problems or watching the Wire is far from understanding or knowing the details and implications of being dealt a certain hand.

    I don’t want to sit here and write a litany of all the difficulties that come with being gay, poor and/or black etc. It’s not the issue and you probably wouldn’t believe me anyways. But Chris Rock is mostly right. As anecdotal evidence, the few white people I know that have grown up with enough black friends to understand and have been exposed to some of the issues at hand have personally told me they would never ever trade—not in a million years.

    But again, my point is not about trading. My point is that your belief that white-male-nerd suffering means you have no privilege is in my opinion wrong. And your claim that you *know* how bad others have it is baffling.

  34. Scott Says:

    Incidentally, Rio #21: the idea that I think “society owes nerds success with women” (!!) is one of those absurdities that makes me despair of ever getting the point across.

    What it does owe them, arguably, is not to fill them with shame from childhood, bully them, and then compound their misery a hundredfold by making their problems out to be moral failings. In short, we need not lift those who are down (we can wait for them to get up), but we could at least refrain from kicking them and then congratulating ourselves for doing so.

    To take a parallel case that everyone agrees about: no one claims that society owes every girl who wants one an illustrious scientific career. But yes, we could refrain from laughing at her if she so much as touches a chemistry set, telling her she’s “privileged” and “entitled” because she keeps applying to graduate programs, and then telling her it’s her own damn fault when she fails.

    I’m struggling, here, to get people to make the gestalt-switch from “how could someone so supposedly smart say something so stupid?” over to “wait a second, what if he’s saying this because he’s right—like, really, out on a limb, unpopularly right? what if future generations won’t look so kindly at our era’s barely-concealed moral self-satisfaction about a huge source of human misery?”

    I don’t know what else to say to help people make this switch. But I just came across a wonderful, humane essay by the psychologist Scott Alexander, which says a lot of this better than I could.

  35. John Doe Says:

    Scott, do you think women are oppressed in Western society? Do you believe that you live in a patriarchy? Do you think men are privileged and women are underprivileged?

    Just curious.

  36. Rio Says:

    Scott #32: the reason I said “society doesn’t owe nerds success with women” is not because I think you believe that. I really don’t think you do and I didn’t see that in anything you wrote. The reason I said that was to explain why nerd-suffering is not a social justice issue and therefore cannot be equated with or dealt with like other such issues. In other words, that’s why people don’t talk about it much. There are many personal issues that people have that no one talks about or advocates for (but I’m not saying this to imply they are not important).

  37. John Doe Says:

    Regarding point 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.”

    Why? Why don’t you make the dual statement as well, that women who think that men are obsolete and we should reduce the male population down to 10% should be thrown in prison for life?

    Plenty of women make misandrist statements like that, in public. There are even debates like “are men obsolete?” — just Google and see for yourself. So why are men to be locked in a cage for life for being misogynists but why do you not treat misandrist women equally?

  38. Douglas Knight Says:

    Scott, it is way too late for you to communicate. You are in a fight. Better luck next time.

  39. Chelsey Says:

    Scott, that post you just linked to by Scott Alexander gets it wrong in a similar fashion that you continue to do here. It is really tiring for us feminists to explain why, over and over and over, to no avail. Even some of the most progressive and well-meaning and intelligent men can’t seem to grasp this, and I’m not claiming that is some kind of problem with the male brain or a moral deficiency. It’s just a mistake, with roots somewhere. It is truly difficult to overcome this collective delusion. Sometimes we lapse into rage and lash out, and for that we are sorry, kind of. But you yourself have to sit down and ask yourself this same question, ‘wait a second, what if they are saying something right?’ It appears from your continued posts and comments that you still aren’t quite getting it. That is a problem I truly don’t know how to solve. And it is a problem that enables continued harm to the most marginalized people in our society (I’m not silly enough to say I would want to switch places with a black person in America even though as a white women I’ve dealt with my fair share of violence and harassment. It takes a particular kind of structural blindness to say such a thing, and it’s just a hurtful thing to say in general for people who can’t manage to ‘switch’ their skin colour or gender or etc).

    This is not any kind of reflection on you as a person, or a moral failure… yet. Depends what you choose to do from here on out. Sometimes it is time to just take a step back and listen. Listen, listen, listen, and listen some more.

  40. Scott Says:

    Rio #36: OK, but I think that still misses the point. We could, and once did, choose to see a girl who’s discouraged from going into science by the people around her as “just a personal issue”—something that she should work through in therapy, if some disparaging remarks really affected her that much. But we don’t anymore. If it happens to enough people, if it’s bad enough in its effects, then we correctly start to see it as a social issue, even if (on some level) it’s “merely” psychological.

  41. John Doe Says:

    Chelsey #39: Men are 75% of violent crime victims. Men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide. 80%+ of homeless people are male, but please do tell me more about how hard it is being a female in the West.

  42. Gemma Mason Says:

    I find myself very much in sympathy with Laurie Penny on this one — I’m another nerdy girl who had problems of her own. And look, given that my eventual solution to the more sexual end of those problems was merely “wear a short skirt and look like you’re drunk,” I get that I had options that men and less conventionally attractive women don’t have. Then again, it wasn’t really that simple. There’s a reason that working through all the implications of what that would mean to me and why I wanted it and whether I could do it and still have self-respect (answer: yes) took me until I was nearly twenty-four. That process of looking at the options and realising you might need to break a few rules (both feminist, depending on which feminists you read, and societal) and then carefully figuring out which rules might be okay to break and then figuring out how to actually make that work? Been there. Just because the final answer is an integer doesn’t mean I didn’t have to turn my page sideways to get the working in.

    Still, now that I’ve introduced myself by slightly (but honestly) undercutting my case, I actually wanted to address your statement that the problem for nerdy boys that you outlined is one “that you can’t even acknowledge as being a problem.” This statement requires qualification as to where you were looking for acknowledgement. It’s true that in social justice circles, it won’t cut much ice. In pop culture, however, it’s very common indeed. Ross from ‘Friends’ and a significant fraction of all the superheroes have your back on this one, as do countless hapless adolescent boys in movies of every genre who eventually ‘win’ the girl and humiliate their bullies.

    Perhaps the biggest problem is not that nerdy boys lack acknowledgement of their plight, but rather that the solutions offered by the narratives in which they so frequently star tend to be bad ones. Winning the girl as a prize for winning that contest (whatever it was in this movie or video game) is honestly about as sensible as being bitten by a radioactive spider. When nerdy boys in movies are part of a love triangle, the resolution is usually that the girl realizes that guy is a jerk and runs off with the nerd instead, and that trope doesn’t help you much in real life either. In fact, it mostly just gives rise to an annoying number of boys who seem to think that whether a girl is attracted to you ought to be determined by how sympathetic you are in some imaginary narrative viewpoint, rather than by whether she’s actually into you or not. My point, though, is that, while these stories almost always reinforce bad ideas that don’t help nerdy boys to see women as people, nevertheless they do constitute a great deal of acknowledgement of the (male) nerdy plight.

    Resistance in social justice circles to acknowledgement of the problems of nerdy boys comes in two flavours. The first is the idea that, yes, this is a problem, you have all our sympathy, but it’s not what we are working on right now because it’s not a social justice issue. The second is that, look, no, this is a problem that has all the acknowledgement (in pop culture) and we’re really busy cleaning up the mess that all that acknowledgement causes, so we’re not likely to be friendly to the idea that there needs to be even more acknowledgement because wouldn’t that just make more mess for us to clean up?

    There is, in fact, an obvious single response to both of these questions together, which is that when the messages that nerdy boys get about how to improve their lives are so damaging, isn’t it actually useful, from a social justice perspective, to try to create an alternative? This idea is not new. It’s marginal, as it should be, in circles that have very reasonably decided to centre people who are not wealthy white males, as a corrective to the rest of society. But it’s out there, and there are people doing good work in this area, whether it’s a feminist blogger talking about consensual flirting from the perspective of both genders, or someone like Dr. Nerdlove, who offers dating advice to nerdy men that includes correctives to all the unrealistic narratives out there that don’t treat women like whole people. I’m not sure how much of those sorts of arguments you’ve seen, but if you’re looking for answers to your ‘P vs NP’-level problem, there is certainly some prior work out there.

  43. keith Says:

    Why is it important to compare groups to see who suffers most and who has more privilege? This seems like an approach bound to lead to arguments and no solutions. (My own preference is to use Jesus’ idea of seeing others as individuals and treating them as you would like to be treated, though I know there’s no fashionable way of promoting this idea.)

    That said, I would rather be gay in Russia than black in America.

  44. Gil Says:

    Hi Chelsey, would you be kind to explain what is it precisely that you regard as wrong here in Scott’s position on this post, and yet once again why. (What precisely is the mistake or the collective delusion that you refer to, and when you suggest to sit down and ask ” ‘wait a second, what if they are saying something right?’ ” what do you refer to? what are you saying.) I realize it is tiring to explain again and again, but please do explain once.

  45. anon Says:

    You might find this response interesting:


  46. Jon Says:

    “We could, and once did, choose to see a girl who’s discouraged from going into science by the people around her as ‘just a personal issue’—something that she should work through in therapy, if some disparaging remarks really affected her that much.”

    But Scott – there is a crucial difference here – it is actually true that women are discouraged from entering science, and women who attempt to do so are punished. But the notion that nerdy men are actually punished for expressing normal interest in women is largely in the heads of the nerds – you yourself were able to start talking to women without anyone punishing you for your conduct.

  47. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    I find it disheartening how many commentators here have added “white” to Scott’s description of nerds. Nothing in Scott’s description said anything about people specifically of any racial group.

    (Also are we really going to do be having this? I was really looking forward to peppering you with some questions now that the semester is over.)

  48. Amy Says:

    I’m on deadline and don’t have much time to comment, but am stopping in to read now and then. Just want to say to Chelsey #39 that I think the conversation can do without threats.

    Incidentally, Gil, I saw your blog post, too, and (a) thanks; (b) ftr I love that Amy Winehouse song, a longtime favorite. Her condition in that video is difficult to watch (I like the official vid of that one) but it’s still an amazing performance.

  49. llamathatducks Says:


    On a more practical level, it’s been my experience, and the experience of everyone else I’ve met, that psychologists and psychiatrists are profoundly unhelpful for this sort of problem. So if we did want to see it as a mental disorder, then at the least, I think psychologists would need to be much better trained in what to do about it.

    [emphasis mine]

    From my perspective, the emphasized part is the crucial area where I agree with you. I don’t care if this problem is called a mental illness or not, but I definitely think that psychologists should be some of the people who address it.

    If mental health professionals were indeed trained to counsel people like you, give you practical advice, and steer you towards more helpful feminist (and other) literature, would you regard this as the problem being solved?

    Because the helpful literature is out there. I don’t know if it was there when you were growing up, but I bet there must have been something that people could’ve pointed you to, and it is a great failure that nobody did. But I really don’t think that the problem is “feminism has nothing for me”, it’s that you didn’t know where to look for it.

    There’s a pretty long discussion of your post on Scott Alexander’s blog, and I want to copy over a comment that I wrote there. I’ll emphasize those parts of it which I would especially like it if you replied to. Apologies for referring to you in the third person (it made sense in context but in this context it looks like I’m ignoring you).

    On the broader topic of this subthread, I always find it really frustrating when this sort of argument is framed as “men are frustrated in seeking sex/romance and women are frustrated in trying to escape solicitations of sex/romance” because I’m a woman and I’ve been routinely frustrated in seeking sex/romance, and I’ve known quite a lot of other women like myself in this regard! I also haven’t experienced many unwanted sexual/romantic advances. This doesn’t make me think that women who routinely encounter unwanted advances are necessarily more privileged than me, only that we have different struggles. (And that their struggles are more tied to a problem of sexism in society than mine are.)

    Sure, I haven’t been warned a bunch that my advances might be harrassment. But I almost wish I had been, because in retrospect I was actually very thoughtlessly obnoxious to some people I was interested in in the past, because I didn’t really realize that “respect ‘no’” is relevant always and in every situation, not just when you might have sex.

    I totally agree that Scott Aaronson’s feminist readings were bad advice for him. I think this is because he chose bad sources of advice (he admitted as much in the thread), not because he chose to take advice from feminists but because he picked some particularly extreme feminists. I absolutely think the psychological professionals he talked to failed him. I do think society in general (not just feminism!) should do better at recognizing that people can have difficulties understanding social norms.

    But there so are feminists who make it pretty darn clear that the solution to not knowing when it’s okay to do what is to use your damn words and also escalate gradually. I know some non-feminists here disagree a lot with Captain Awkward’s advice that guys looking for women to date should consume art by women, but even if you don’t like that bit of advice, still it remains true that e.g. these three posts clearly advocate asking girls out and more or less say how to do it! (The last one’s LW seems to be a trans woman, but perceived entirely as a guy, so this is still relevant.)

    I suppose Captain Awkward’s site wasn’t around when all this was happening in Scott Aaronson’s life, so perhaps at the time there actually was no helpful feminist thought to draw on (I don’t know). But if so, that has changed.

    Also I strongly second Veronica’s point that Scott Aaronson’s experience in no way invalidates the experience of women who have bad experiences in male-dominated fields. He seems to think that “privilege” means that all men are better off than all women, whereas what it really means is that (a) in general men are better off than women, and (b) for the most part, all else being equal, a man will be better off than a woman. (He tried to deny “privilege” by comparing his lonely, suicidal past self to happy partying women, when he should’ve been comparing his lonely, suicidal past self to lonely, suicidal women, plenty of whom exist. Not sure what that comparison would’ve yielded.)

  50. Carl Lumma Says:

    Thank you for posting this, and for writing comment 171.

  51. James Says:

    Just let them silence you. There’s no winning unless you submit completely and immediately. This is a game of Ingroups And Outgroups and the content of what you say no longer matters.

  52. a Says:

    First off, deep respect for the bravery/honesty of your comment 171. I’m a heterosexual male who’s struggled with similar issues (deep shame/fear of being evil because of sexual desires), and it was incredibly cathartic to read your comment. I appreciate it personally.

    Ok now:

    “…I would’ve gladly traded places with them, despite knowing how badly they have it…”

    It’s rather bold to assert that you knew exactly how bad all these people had it.

    For one, as has been said, I guarantee that many of the people you’d trade places with would’ve gladly traded places with you. “yeah he’s got debilitating anxiety but he’s also safe, has a bed and is a goddam genius” or something. You’d say “you say that, but no you don’t get what it’s like.” And so would they.

    What breaks the symmetry here? The only way is if you say that they didn’t actually understand what it’s like to be you, but that you understood what it was like them.

    So how are you surprised that people are offended? You (since adolescence) understand all these (so-called) unprivileged, but they don’t understand you?

    Over-valuing what we don’t have and not seeing what we do have is universal/human, especially in growing up, and I don’t think you were immune to it.

    On another note, I think your own story is representative of the sorts of things particularly thoughtful/sensitive/prone-to-worry people (male, female, nerd, rock star, w/e) go through, rather than of shy male nerds. I.e., in my opinion, thoughtful/sensitive/prone-to-worry is the fundamental cause of your struggle/experience, and to an extent orthogonal to shy-male-nerdness which mostly set the context.

  53. Sniffnoy Says:

    Chelsey #39:

    This is not any kind of reflection on you as a person, or a moral failure… yet. Depends what you choose to do from here on out. Sometimes it is time to just take a step back and listen. Listen, listen, listen, and listen some more.

    From this, what I can conclude is that you have not listened!

    I’m one of those people who has/had a similar problem to Scott. And if you’d read what Scott wrote, you’d see our whole[0] problem is that we did listen! We listened, and we obeyed. And we listened, and we obeyed. And we kept on listening, and we kept on obeying.

    And now when we attempt to say “All this listening, contrary to leading us to truth, actually led us badly astray, to a seriously warped picture of morality”, we are told we didn’t listen enough!

    Now, you might say that we didn’t listen correctly; and the claim that the message we received is not the message that was intended is, I would say, accurate. But the answer is certainly not “listen more”. Neither would I say it is “listen more correctly” — how are we supposed to do that? Rather, I’d say it’s for the people speaking to speak more clearly. In particular, they need to start paying attention to what what their writings mean when taken absolutely literally, rather than with common sense applied. Because we’re listening. And we’re obeying. Even when the result is absurd.

    [0]OK, actually, it’s worth noting here that a lot of the problem is not just feminist ideas but rather pre-feminist, “benevolently sexist” ideas as well! I don’t think Hugh Ristik or the Scotts have sufficiently acknowledged that, and it’s worth talking about. But this is a separate point so I’m not going to go on about this here.

  54. An MIT SNM Says:

    Chelsey’s comment reminds me of things I’ve read a hundred times on tumblr — “Check your privilege”, “It’s not my job to educate you”, etc. Short of outright name-calling, this is the least useful thing one could possibly say.

    The other Scott summed it up better than I could:

    “I think Wil Wheaton – and a big chunk of the rest of the feminist community – honestly believe that no member of their in-group has ever done anything wrong, and that evil is purely an out-group phenomenon. They will probably continue to believe this, because they’re trapped in a media bubble that obsessively signal-boosts anything bad that happens to them, and obsessively covers up any bad behavior on their own part. Any attempt to get through the bubble gets reduced inside their own minds to – as he put it – “blah blah both sides blah”.”

    Your one blog post isn’t going to ever get through their bubble. The other side doesn’t just believe they’re right; they believe that they’re so unquestionably, obviously right that even explaining why to somebody outside the bubble is pointless.

    (Incidentally, when one of my friends shared your comment 171 on Facebook, the immediate response was that you were a Nice Guy who felt Entitled To Sex, and therefore problematic, etc. I doubt anybody actually read the comment all the way through; a few sentences were enough to establish beyond doubt that you were a horrible human being.)

  55. An MIT SNM Says:

    I think you did a good job of making this blog post resilient to that sort of out of hand dismissal, more so than #171, but… inevitably, the vast majority of people who ever hear about your blog post are only going to see the single sentence

    “I believe that “the problem of the nerdy heterosexual male” is surely one of the worst social problems today”

    immediately followed by page-long rants about how bad a person you are. The thousand reasonable words before that sentence are going to waste, since a lot of us that will actually read them already agree with you.

  56. mjgeddes Says:


    Feminism is ideology and the view I take is that its entirely pointless to argue with ideology. Feminism is just the ‘mirror image’ of manosphere ‘red pill’ ideas (which are also ideology).

    Ideology is a particular narrative that filters reality in a particular way in order to favour the interests of a certain subset of people. So feminism is an ideology promoting the interests of women. That’s not to say that there isn’t some (or even a great deal) of validity to it, just that, as an ideology, it’s bound up with the identity of women. That being the case, I really feel it should be left to women to promote and argue about, not men (It’s not say that men can’t support feminism on specific concrete issues of course)

    The shy nerdy male problem is definitely interesting stuff, but its a male problem, so I really don’t think that bringing feminism into the discussion can help in any way. Remember, feminism is promoting the interests of women, feminists are not interested in the problems of shy male nerds 😉

  57. Callum Says:

    Re: Scott #28

    The issue as you describe it in response makes it no different than the people who frame Asperger’s as a “diffability” rather than a disability, and that is something I have a lot of sympathy for. Obviously, Asperger’s is considered a disorder of some kind, but disability/diffability advocates rightly point out that many of the struggles of Aspies can be located in the lack of understanding of others and the poor social cues and demands that we place on people, rather than in biological development.

    However, accepting that this amounts to some cultural rather than psychological problems, it remains the case that no Aspie I know or could even imagine would ever consider claiming that they are a member of an oppressed or underprivileged social class. Sure, they would recognise that things can suck at times and that there are always improvements to fight over, but they would never think that because there’s a struggle, therefore they are a special and especially-hard-done-by group of people – and this from individuals who deal with severe social difficulties throughout life, not just mid-late adolescence.

    This is what creates the problem with your summary in comment 31: that you would absolutely have traded places with, say, the poor black kid or the gay kid. I don’t for one minute deny your sincerity that you *would* have traded places because I have been depressed and I know what it’s like to see the world *in an unrealistic way*. But the fact that you were so emotionally distraught as to desire such a switch is *not* a reflection on the actual experiences of the types of people in question – the fact that you would have switched is *not* an indication that you genuinely had it worse (or even anywhere close) than the people you would have switched with.

    So you can either own the desire you had as the whimsy of a deeply depressive episode which you now recognise led you to desire something that always was and remains irrational (which you appear unwilling to concede), or you can claim that it did and still does make perfect sense to you – that any switch would result in a better deal – in which case, despite your protestations, the only sensible conclusion for onlookers is that you really do have a marked unawareness of the life experiences of marginalised people. It’s not that you would have switched which is the problem, it’s that you think switching would have made life better.

  58. Liam Says:

    Thanks for the followup, Scott. I don’t think your response could be much more explicit about what you believe, but I’m worried about the main reaction being “wow. just wow. he believes in equality so slightly that he thinks he deserves a cookie just for saying that non-cishet people have rights?? looks like my point is proven”. If there’s any defense against this sort of hostile confirmation bias, I’m not sure what it is, but I hope that laying it out like this will help and I think it’s the right thing to have done.

  59. graeme Says:

    I have an opinion. My opinion is that many people think terms such as patriarchy attempt to describe people in aggregate and that this is a wrongheaded way to go about thinking.

    My opinion is that what patriarchy describes is social relations between people taken in aggregate. That terms like privilege describe social relations and not some quality that describes or resides in a person, or how that person responds to the world or other people, or that what privilege describes is necessarily beneficial to the privileged (you might say that privileges are the class of such relations that are beneficial, at which point you can see my own disagreement with the term–are they always such, even for the privileged?–even if I believe what the term describes is very real). That social relations are just what they sound like–a relationship between people; whether thats a friendship, something mediated by a commodity, or a family structure.

    My opinion is also that reifying such relations by talking about them this way is an important element of understanding what the Heck is going on in the world, and that the prevailing ideology (i love that word) of (and i love these two following words) liberal individualism is excellent at making otherwise sensible people totally unwilling to think about the world this way

  60. Anonymous Says:

    I’m an occasional reader of your blog, and consider myself a feminist, and I just wanted to express my support. I’m disgusted (though perhaps not surprised) that the response to your brave, heart-felt, soul-baring comment has been so hostile and dismissive of your feelings. Like you (I assume), I have an anxiety disorder, and have felt similar feelings to those you describe (being a woman, they manifested somewhat differently, but from your post, I have the impression that the overall feelings of guilt and shame are at least somewhat similar). As such, I find it all the more impressive that you were brave enough to post your experiences publicly, something I still can’t imagine doing. It’s incredibly ugly that people have chosen to contort this action into something so negative. I don’t know how people can be so lacking in empathy. I just want you to know that, for what it’s worth, this feminist does not think you are a misogynist or should feel any shame or guilt whatsoever for comment 171.

    (As an aside, the difficulty faced by young men who feel rejected by women is something that I do think about from time to time, and I think there are many feminists who do feel that this is a legitimate issue. Perhaps we should be more vocal about it.)

  61. Alejandro Says:

    I’m glad you have discovered Scott Alexander’s blog; it is truly excellent, and you should go through the archives when you have some time. He wrote a review of your book.

  62. Anonymous Berkeley Professor Says:

    Let this be a lesson to you, Scott: the left always eats its own. The Soviets purged their revolutionaries, today’s politically correct Americans call their slightly-less-radical forefathers “racist” and “sexist”, and you will never receive one iota of respect nor gratitude from radical feminists for your feminism.

    (Your comment about throwing men who disagree with you in prison for life, even if it is a joke, suggests that you’re in danger of going down the same nihilistic moral road. I warn you, that way lies Hell.)

    Here’s a strong hint: for all their talk about “rape culture”, how much attention did American feminists give to the rape scandals in Rotherham, UK? Very little. Stop taking them at their word; their motivations are not what they say they are. Study their actions instead. Today’s media feminists don’t care about thousands (probably tens of thousands) of teenage girls being raped and pimped by UK Muslims, but they sure as hell do care about not getting hit on by guys like you.

    I hope that you will reexamine your beliefs and eliminate those that don’t accord with your lived experience. First, ask yourself what are the real motives of western women–the most wealthy, comfortable, and legally favored women in human history–complaining about “male privilege” and twisting your words to portray you as evil? (Hint: Marxist rhetoric is about grievance, resentment, and destroying the current society; they don’t have anything to replace it with.) Second, discard the belief that most leftists can be reasoned with (what I see this post as trying to do).

    Being the cortex-dominated guy you are, you’re probably not perceiving clearly that most of your critics will respond only to dominance and verbal smackdowns (rhetoric), not to sound argumentation (dialectic). To normal (non-nerdy) human beings, life is a dominance contest every day, and this post comes from a position of appeasement. Leftists respond to appeasement not with forgiveness, but by dealing out the death blow. The post would have benefited from less “Please like me, I’m a good feminist” (which is futile) and more “Some of you assholes will never be satisfied because your real motives are hurting men, not helping women”.

    Kudos for your original confession. It was genuinely brave, and it opens up a reality that is never discussed. Now, if you want to genuinely achieve your goal of reaching out to young nerds, you are going to have to stay focused on demanding what you want and stop genuflecting so much to every random thing women claim to want. Non-nerds interpret the latter as submission, and nobody wants to be led by the submissive.

  63. Danny Says:

    Chelsey #39: I am truly baffled. What Scott seems to be saying all along, basically pleading with feminists is exactly this: “Sometimes it is time to just take a step back and listen. Listen, listen, listen, and listen some more.”

    Listen to what men sometimes say, because sometimes they too have it bad. Yes, that bad. He asked a psychiatrist for chemical castration, for godsakes. He was that miserable. Why should he be the one to listen, when that’s exactly what he’s been asking of you to do that for just one goddman minute? And yet you refuse!

  64. Liam Says:

    Gemma #42: Thanks, this helped me look at it from another angle and provided a useful, instrumental approach to the problem. I can definitely see how movies’ narrative of “yeah, it sucks that women don’t like you, but it’ll work itself out if you just keep acting like a protagonist!!” is damaging to everyone. Through that lens, I can see why so many people’s expressions of disappointment that real life doesn’t work like the Standard Narrative is so often interpreted by others (like Penny) as entitlement or anti-feminism.

    A good overall solution would be something along the lines of “change the Standard Narrative by having movie characters of all genders act like real people with agency and depth”, which fortunately aligns with existing social justice goals of having more good (not just “strong”) non-male characters in fiction, so I have hope for this meme vector at least.

  65. Chelsey Says:

    Dear Gil: I’ll try to do that another day when I have a bit more time.

  66. Richard Says:

    I’ve been on the sidelines for this discussion, talking about the posts and follow up posts in other forums. I really appreciate the level of engagement you are maintaining with the comment section, and that you took the time to write this post. It’s clear you are trying to engage, to understand and be understood. And it’s also clear there is a lot of space left for learning based on where you currently stand. I can sympathize, as I’m working through this myself, coming from a somewhat similar (though possibly different in magnitude) adolescent experience.

    I have two points that I hope will help the discussion, the first broad and the second more focused.

    First, the tone of this post and some of your comments is still very black and white, very indicative that you think your current beliefs on these topics are completely mature and fixed. I suspect you don’t mean to give that impression. If, like me, you expect your beliefs to evolve over the coming days/weeks/years as you learn more about these topics, engage with more people, and as society improves, please make sure you are clear about that in your posts. When you talk about jailing men who haven’t caught up yet, or compare things to blood libel, it really does give the impression of lashing yourself to the mast, both to people who might disagree with you in a less progressive way (the men you would jail) and people who would disagree in a more progressive way (such as people who think basic tenants of feminism are still not universally accepted and need to be repeated). As an academic, and as a individual whose views of these issues have surely evolved over time, I encourage you to be more open to questioning the beliefs you hold today. Just as society may look back at the plight of shy nerdy males and wonder how we failed to recognize their pain, you may look back on some of the positions you hold today and wonder why it took so long to change your mind. This is not to say you cannot argue in a clear, direct, and forthright manner for your beliefs. Just avoid rhetorical constructions that are so absolute.

    Secondly, when it comes to the shy nerdy male, I think you need to think about the structural oppression versus the personal problems. There is structural oppression, such as cultures that ignore bullying or privilege those who learn to work the adolescent pecking order early, whether they do it through athletic achievement, good looks, or social manipulation. But a lot of the challenges faced by shy nerdy males are personal problems, where better education and behavior changes can resolve things. I do look forward to your advice post. Because if taking some advice solves the problem, then that actually makes it a less bad problem. That’s the thing about sexism and racism: It’s been pretty consistently shown that just taking advice (leaning in, asking, dressing white) is inadequate to address the issue, that things are harder for one group in ways that are outside their control.

    A parallel that might be instructive would be of middle class white americans with debt problems. Yes, they are the victims of structural oppression, institutions from banks to the media encouraging them to live beyond their means, education which failed to prepare them for the modern financial world, a lack of time to properly understand their options, flawed employment and healthcare systems that put them at risk. And yes, there are changes to be made, from obvious things like reforming lending practices to bigger ideas like changing the consumption portrayed as normal on television. And I support those changes politically. But when addressing an individual, or even a large group of individuals, who have a debt problem, it seems far more productive to highlight the changes they can make as an individual to improve their situation. While there is some space for complaining and blaming the system, it’s a system that can be worked and most people who are capable of going on the internet to complain about it are capable of learning to do things properly. They should spend time on that not collective self-pity and blame assignment.

    To bring it back to the shy nerdy males: People are questioning your position because this doesn’t look like a structural problem. It looks like a lot of individuals with individual problems. In fact, many of them probably have different problems. Some of us who worked through our problems at 16 or 18 or 20 could probably do a better job writing stuff down and offering counseling. But a lot have, there is infinitely more information on the internet about this than when I went on IRC as a 17 year old to talk to girls. Shy nerdy males are literate, internet connected, and often affluent. They can figure out their own problems. Yes, some of them need to medicate their depression, or otherwise seek outside help. And sometimes their parents or schools won’t be supportive enough. But I don’t see the need, or even the desirability, for a single big hammer utopian parallel world in which they can have a carefree nerd existence. I don’t think there is a one size fits all utopia for that, whether it looks like math camp or not.

    So, thank you again for being so open to communicating about this, not just writing but engaging. As a respected member of the MIT faculty, your opinion and behavior has weight. Please be open to changing your opinion over time, as I’m sure you are, and be clear about that in your writing. And as you think about the way to solve this problem, of shy nerd males, consider which parts are truly structural and which are more personal.

  67. Chelsey Says:

    @Danny I think it is great when men share their experiences of suffering and vulnerability, particularly in the areas of mental health struggles, bullying, and intimate relationships. I regard this as a huge step in the right direction.

    One of my main issues here is that many people (and oftentimes men) do not have a very good grasp of social-structural issues, historical context, political and economic factors, etc, and then the conclusions drawn from their individual experience or statistical anecdotes obscures the actual power dynamics at play- the ones that shape and constrain the lives of certain groups of people to varying degrees.

    Sometimes, the disadvantages that men face are actually the conditions of the advantages, i.e. living in a patriarchal society, where the lives of both women and men are constrained and prescribed. Facing that requires a nuanced grasp of all those factors I’ve listed above. Admitting that men are suffering too is great, but it does not mean that feminists will throw out a vast body of theoretical and empirical work that explains how power is organized along gendered lines in our society, sometimes (oftentimes) backed up by the threat of violence. Any woman who has truly challenged the status quo knows this on a visceral level.

    Feminism seeks to centre the narratives of women as a response to a society that so often silences us. Many women (and I’m in STEM field) have sat in countless meetings having their ideas ignored and five minutes later repeated by a man and everyone thinks it is a great idea. Little things like that that happen every day that are not noticed by men at all- they’re invisible. So, seeking to recentre the suffering of men is a bit insidious and it is partially why you’ll get backlash for it. It is also not a social justice project equivalent to feminism, because feminism seeks to dismantle patriarchy. Having feminists, or women, or anyone, be nicer to nerdy men is not an emancipatory political project. It has nothing to do with justice, not as I understand it.

    Perhaps more later…

  68. anon Says:

    Dear Scott,

    You’re attempting to engage with a community that subscribes to an ideology of patriarchy and “rape culture”. Whatever you say, your words will always be misconstrued to fit that particular narrative because this community isn’t looking for an honest dialogue.

    This was evident in many of the comments following your previous post, and it’s true of the social media comments that prompted your current one. Doubling down now is unlikely to change this course.

    There are studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, FBI, and DoJ that refute the main claims of gender feminism, many of which appeared in your previous post in some form. I can post links later if some wish it (I suspect you know many of them given your earlier reference to Sommers). But these materials don’t matter because you are dealing with a belief-based argument. It’s not so different from (nor more fruitful than) debating with religious fundamentalists.

    It’s also no less frightening. That you exposed a very private episode from your past is itself a red flag. Why should this be necessary? Just to avoid outright dismissal in this debate? And that you advocate for life imprisonment, even if somewhat facetiously, is another flag.

    I find it scary that critical thinkers must go to increasing extremes to proclaim their humanist convictions to what is essentially the mob. That I have to post this anonymously is similarly sad.

  69. Lou Scheffer Says:

    Scott, your argument (summarized) says you were as miserable as it is possible for human to be, instead of being privileged.

    But I think you can be miserable and still privileged. You state “So what happened to break me out of this death-spiral? […] I got older, and after years of hard work, I achieved some success in science, and that success boosted my self-confidence…”.

    This is where privilege comes in – you were perfectly set up, by circumstances of birth, to escape from the death-spiral in this manner. Had you been female, or black, or living in a shanty in Africa, this path would have been harder, or closed entirely, and you might be in the death-spiral still.

    I completely agree your privilege did not make you any less miserable. But it did give you an easier path to escape this condition, and the ability to escape their current misery is a privilege many do not possess.

  70. Chelsey Says:

    Basically, what Richard #66 said (and thank you for saying it with much more patience than I can summon these days. Apologies if my impatience shone through in earlier posts).

  71. Anon Says:

    john #8 and Scott:

    > First of all, though, I didn’t say anything about “white.” At the least, I’d guess that Asian males have these issues at least at the rate of whites, and there’s no reason why they can’t apply to any other ethnicity.

    As a nerdy Asian male, I can confirm that the same issue applies to us (or at least to me). It wasn’t that dramatic for me (and I didn’t bother to read “feminism literature” bullshit since obviously they won’t solve any problems for me), but I did have problem looking straight into girls, or at least girls that I secretly liked, worried about this harassment thing. Apparently being a nerd tripled the problem since nerds are portrayed so badly in all societies I know — confidence dropped so badly. I did wish I were asexual so that I could focus on math and physics; the natural desires were distracting at least, and while there were sweet times, most often they brought trouble.

  72. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    Anon 68,

    You don’t have to post your comment anonymously, and using your own imagined fear as an argument is not particularly persuasive. How many people are making arguments similar to yours and have no problem posting the comments with their actual names?

    I find curious your blanket statement that the entire feminist community is unwilling to engage in dialogue. Do you think for example that Gemma’s comments here indicate such an unwillingness?

    There’s a relevant SMBC http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2939 which you may want to look at.

  73. Eggo Says:

    Professor, I don’t think you’re getting out of this without making a Tearful Apology. Although at this point it’s probably too late for you to recant.
    It’s important to punish statements like yours as a demonstration of power. It doesn’t matter how much of an ally you are: the point is demonstrating that they have the power to hurt you.

    Good luck.

    @Callum #55

    Please don’t presume to speak for me, especially when you’re doing it to smear your host.
    If I could give the professor my (awesome!) childhood growing up gay, I KNOW he’d have been a happier person. Your dogma doesn’t get a say in this.

  74. Amy Says:

    Joshua #72, many of the people posting here are tenured professors; you’re protected, if I’ve got the right JZ, by the rules surrounding dismissal of t-t profs. Most people don’t have that kind of protection, can be fired for any reason or none; who knows what else they have to protect or what their vulnerabilities are. I don’t mind anonymity. I disagree wholeheartedly with his comment and find it wrongheaded and paranoid, but if he wants to argue as anon, I don’t see why not.

  75. Anonymous Says:

    Professor Aaronson-

    I just wanted to let you know that comment 171 resonated with me, and applaud you on sharing such personal feelings on your blog. Being a hetero white male who grew up rather shy and nerdy, I empathized with many aspects of it.


  76. Hektor Bim Says:

    I took a look at your biography, and noticed several things. One of them is that you attended a special program for gifted children at Clarkson University, which specifically sounds like a program for nerdy, asocial kids. As someone who went to gifted programs as well, that seemed to be the point. There is a whole movement for gifted education that specifically is working to help nerdy kids in their formative years. Do you think gifted education is the wrong approach, underutilized, or what?

    I’ll also reiterate something that Rio said upthread: “How could you possibly know what it’s like to be a black kid growing up in America? Or gay?” Your father was an public relations executive, which means you grew up rich at least part of the time. You attended private schools, including Clarkson, and then later Cornell and Berkeley, none of which are exactly cheap. You belong to a very white religious denomination in America. You are in a very white male field, computer science. Where does this certainty that you know how black or gay people in America have it in America and that you would gladly switch places with them arise? What personal experience of how black or gay people have it in America do you have? I can guarantee that a ton of people would have switched places with you at any point in your life, no questions asked. I don’t understand your certainty about this at all.

  77. stillnotking Says:

    Putting aside what “society” thinks about anything — such claims are nebulous, unverifiable, and probably meaningless — I can confidently, if anecdotally, assert that men who confess to having trouble getting laid elicit only contempt. What you experienced is nothing more or less than a typical blood-in-the-water reaction of the political Twittersphere to anyone who confesses weakness and can somehow be spun as a bad guy. (Possession of a Y chromosome is more than sufficient grounds for this, in some feminist circles. Bear in mind that most of the pilers-on likely never heard of you before.)

    Given that condemnation and bullying are much easier, and often more socially rewarding, than honest engagement, of course that’s the reaction you got. If you truly expected anything else, then this will have been a valuable lesson.

  78. StephenMeansMe Says:

    Richard @ #66:

    > People are questioning your position because this doesn’t look like a structural problem. It looks like a lot of individuals with individual problems. In fact, many of them probably have different problems.

    Why does it look that way? Could it be otherwise, and if not, why not?

    Even speaking as a once-shy, still-nerdy male who DIDN’T have problems in high school (to be fair, I basically just didn’t play the game, though my first relationship suffered greatly for the same reasons) I don’t really see why we can’t agree this is a general problem worth investigating. Not by feminists, if they don’t want to: but I don’t think feminism has a monopoly on what counts as a gender issue either.

  79. Observer Says:

    Berkeley #62 nailed it. Scott, you are drinking the leftist-feminist koolaid. You need to take the red pill. The psychiatrists, who pathologize you, will not do you any good either. There is nothing wrong with you, except for the fact that our society has lied to you about male-female relations all of your life.

  80. nydwracu Says:

    Let’s see if I have this right.

    Something made you feel so guilty that you wanted to get yourself chemically castrated.

    Guilty for what? For wanting to do something that was provably done by literally every single one of your ancestors all the way down to the first organism on the planet Earth to reproduce sexually.

    Why? Because that thing told you that it’s always morally wrong for anyone on your side of the process of sexual reproduction to want to do something that was provably done by literally every single one of everyone’s ancestors all the way down to the first organism on the planet Earth to reproduce sexually.

    And you’re still listening to it.

  81. clayton Says:

    I think I’ll be agreeing with Richard #66 pretty whole-heartedly here, both in tone and substance.

    Thank you, Scott, for being brave enough to talk about your difficult personal history. But realizing the limits of anecdote can be an especially critical rhetorical move.

  82. Job Says:


    I can see why you’re getting a negative reaction to your comment.

    There’s an implicit “i’ve got problems too, you know” in there.

    That type of argument is not usually well received – at best it degrades into an unpopularity contest (which it did).

    It’s also perceived as an evasive maneuver, and a fallacy known as appeal to pity.

    What’s the real argument here? Do you disagree on some fundamental point or do you just want feminists to accept you and leave you alone?

  83. Boaz Barak Says:

    Scott, I am in awe of your ability and willingness to open yourself up like that. You are one of the most courageous and intellectually honest people I’ve known. I am very sorry to hear that people who do not know you have taken one comment out of context and completely distorted your views. People in our community who know you personally can attest how generous you are with your time and attention to anyone curious about science, regardless of gender or any other background.

    I haven’t read all of the background (who can?) so I am not completely sure what is the context here and what this argument is about. However, I am not at all sure feminism has much to do with the issues that many young male nerds face (as I was once, though not so young anymore..). I am guessing that most of them (us) have not read even one feminist book, let alone a dozen – just one more way in which you are a very unique individual. I personally also don’t believe in the “neanderthal vs nice guy” dichotomy. First of all, while I didn’t realize it at the time, if I reflect on the some of the people in my school that seemed like “fun-having neanderthals”, I realize that they actually had pretty serious personal and familial problems. Also, I know several very nice people that have had no trouble finding romantic relationships.

  84. anon123 Says:

    Chelsey #67

    Your comment here is a perfect illustration of why ideology is problematic:

    Many women (and I’m in STEM field) have sat in countless meetings having their ideas ignored and five minutes later repeated by a man and everyone thinks it is a great idea. Little things like that that happen every day that are not noticed by men at all- they’re invisible.

    In the above, “women” and “a man” and “men” could be replaced with “people” and “someone” and “anyone.” How many people, particularly shy, nerdy people, share this common experience? I’m a shy male in a STEM field, and this happens to me all the time, both inside and outside of work. I think it has to do with the fact that I don’t speak as loudly or as clearly as others, and that I do not project confidence. There are just certain types of people who possess a certain je ne sais quoi that naturally draws attention and response, and others whose social comments are more often ignored. I think most can relate to this observation. This is a human problem, not a uniquely female one, though I think there is a strong correlation (eg females may speak less loudly or as confidently and therefore be less likely to possess that certain je ne sais quoi). The fact that you would shoehorn your anecdote into such a parochial perspective I think reinforces the skepticism of those who are put off by the righteous certainty of your viewpoint.

  85. Physics Dude Says:

    First of all, I commend you for “coming out” so to speak about this. It is a topic that can comes with a strong stigma and is not something I would personally be brave enough to discuss (unless anonymously, as I do here).

    Now, many here are dismissing the concerns of nerdy white males as insignificant in comparison to the concerns of women and minorities. Now I cannot speak out of direct personal experience as to the experience of women, latinos, or blacks. All I can say with certainty is that I am simply lucky not to have been born a black male. The amount of prejudice and danger that they face dwarfs that of any other major “oppressed” group, as far as I can tell.

    However, I guy of South Asian ancestry who had the misfortune being non-Christian, brown skinned, and located in a rather conservative state when 9/11 occurred and in the years after that. I endured significant racism during this time period. I continue to encounter subtle racism sometimes in my day to day life, but having gone to college in a liberal town, and now living in Silicon Valley, the racism I experience is greatly diminished.

    I had always been a nerd, and became a physics major in college. Most of my male friends were nerds like me, and the majority of them were white. The racism I had experienced prior to college was a troublesome annoyance. It was a handicap I had to surmount. But that was all it was. It cannot begin to compare with the shame, guilt, angst, and self-doubt of satisfying or at least dealing with one’s sexual and romantic desires as a heterosexual nerdy male who wishes to avoid harassing, demeaning, or objectifying women. At first when I went to college. I assumed I was alone in this, or that my difficulty was simply due to being unprepared by my parents for Western dating. But at some point I had a heart-to-heart conversation with a close friend and found out that he struggled with much the same issues. Even more, he informed me that a mutual friend also was having the same problems.

  86. Kevin Says:

    @Chelsea #67 –

    “Having feminists, or women, or anyone, be nicer to nerdy men is not an emancipatory political project. It has nothing to do with justice, not as I understand it.”

    Let’s get into what you don’t seem to “understand”. The entire debate about the treatment of “nerds” is a sloppy and imprecisely framed debate that implies the societal treatment persons perceived to be nuero-atypical. I have no idea if you, like me, are affected by an autism spectrum disorder or love anyone who is. Since you work in STEM I would venture to guess you at least know persons affected by an ASD. The vague and ill-defined group “nerds” is not coextensive with persons affected by ASDs, but the emergent character of our experiences as a group strongly indicates that the majority of us are coded as “nerds” (which, near as I can tell, is someone displaying an obvious and consistent failure to comply with social/interactional norms) and punished as being such. Since you self-identify as a feminist I am going to presume you are familiar with the concepts of intersectionality and ableism. Those of us affected by ASDs, alongside anyone (of all genders, races, orientations) with developmental disorders, personality disorders, etc. must consistently fight back societal ableist presumptions and norms (and ALSO, contemporaneously, fight against the ableism of lowered expectations). For many of us, it does not end in high school, or with therapy, or with medication, or with anything short of a miracle. Ableism IS structural. Sexism, racism, classism, etc. are often deeply entangled with it, and can greatly exacerbate it, but they are neither ideological nor historical preconditions for it. The recent open season on “nerds” coming from the feminist/social justice community simultaneously displays a healthy and righteous indignation and an incredible insensitivity to abelism as another intersectional and structural issue.

    I am not accusing you of ableism and I am not trying to gloss over the very unfortunate mistake that is often made in these kinds of conversations: positing that the poor treatment “nerds” somehow mitigates his male privilege or in anyway implies “nerds” are entitled to greater romantic consideration for not being “jocks” or whatever. A lot of us get it. Many of us are feminists too. What often sticks in our collective craws is that while women/feminists rightfully demand that men, including “nerds” recognize our privilege and not confuse our individual issues which may arise from imperfect realization of masculinity with structural issues face by women women/feminists are inexcusably silent when righteously strident feminists begin dipping into ableist rhetoric that is deeply hurtful. While persons coded as “nerd” may or may not be affected by disorder, those of use who ARE affected AND are almost always persecuted in that way. This is a manifestation of ableism. Just as slipping into classism or racism when fighting sexism is a failure of instersectionality, lapsing into ableism due to an uncritical and impatient response to sexism is likewise a failure.

    Persons affected by ASDs and other disorders are not a monolith. I am sure some disagree with me, but all of us know that EVERY social interaction we have is fraught with the potential for use to be humiliated or ostracized. This has much to do with societal norms presuming nuerotypicality. Men just so happen to be four to five times more likely to be affected by one of these disorders. It does not mean we are both male and affected are not privileged as men, we are. None of our issues in life stem directly form our masculinity. However, while issues of gender need to be centered on women in order to fight sexism, misogyny, and patriarchy, many feminists are making the critical mistake of ALSO engaging in a conversation centered on persons affected by abelism in this way. No one is excused from taking our intersectional issues into account. I promise you I will fight patriarchy alongside you if you will take the time to perhaps think more critically about what you might be missing in THIS conversation.

  87. Daniel Seita Says:

    Thank you very much, Scott, for this post and comment 171. I would view myself as one of those shy nerdy males in STEM and could relate to what you said, and I guess I’ll post my real name as well. I’ve always had trouble figuring out social cues and trying to make friends, and to add on to the difficulty, I’m also deaf, so even trivial conversations can be a lot of trouble for me.

    Seeing all the news regarding sexual assault and biases against women, which I know exist (I’m not here to deny that!) but seem so foreign to me, has made me wonder how an awkward STEM male like me can help out. Is there some common advice for that? I mention “foreign” because I’m almost positive that I have never been a perpetrator of sexual assault or substantial bullying, not because I think I have impeccable decorum, but because I don’t have many social contexts to remember that might have led to those outcomes.

    If anything, I feel like seeing the issues that women face, whether it’s from public news (e.g., Walter Lewin) or from women themselves (e.g., the blogs Female Science Professor, Women in Philosophy, etc.) has made me more socially awkward. Right now, whenever I talk to women, I make sure to give them lots of space, think thrice before saying any sort of joke, and I have little interest in acts such as shaking hands, unless it’s very, very clear that they are the initiators. The situation for me is less extreme when I’m talking to men, though I still engage in far less “touching” behavior than most men I see.

    Reading this conversation here, I’m reminded by Hillary Clinton’s recent discussion regarding the Eric Gardner and Mike Brown killings, when she said “imagine what it’s like to be a young black man.” Every time I read stories about someone’s troubles (e.g., like in comment 171) I try to constantly remind myself about trying to imagine what it’s like to be in that person’s situation. Do I think you may have slightly exaggerated your story? Yes. But do I also think you went through a lot of trouble and don’t deserve to be blindly given the label “hey, elite white male!!!”? Absolutely!

    Similarly, I often think about what it would be like for me to be a woman in STEM. Likewise, I hope that more people will try to take the time to think about what it’s like to be us. Of course, the problem is that thinking about what it’s like to be another person is very difficult: everyone’s different, and I worry that a lot of people would just laugh at our painful stories despite how difficult it is for me (and must have been for you). I’ve felt left out of social groups from elementary school through college, including groups that involve other nerdy STEM males. I’ve had constant reminders from others that I need to be more social (naturally, without any specific advice), and I sometimes wish I could just tell those people that it’s a little hard for me to even communicate with others.

    In the best case scenario, my life will be able to mirror yours in that the confidence gained from scientific research will translate into increased expertise in social skills (unfortunately, I’m nowhere near that point in life). I wonder if your years at Berkeley allowed you to abandon the experiences you describe in comment 171. That I enjoyed computer science and mathematics allowed me to go through the grind of college and mask my social issues, and now that I’m a PhD student at Berkeley, I do feel like I’m on the right track.

  88. Physics Dude Says:

    Jen #27

    Isn’t the answer obvious? If shy male nerds are feeling so much guilt about expressing interest in women, then it stands to reason that the shy female nerds around them would not be getting much interest expressed in them, even after they have tried flirting and showing their own interest.

  89. Gil Says:

    I think that the list of Scott’s nine core beliefs is quite remarkable. I will leave more praises for elsewhere, but here are two small remarks about the wording and a comment regarding punishment. The message of point #4 is not clear to me and it is made on an unnecessary rhetorical platform suggesting (humorously) that the lives of great people worth more than those of ordinary people.

    Regarding point #5, as a moral matter, of course, people should not be punished for their thoughts, even if they are racist or sexist or criminal, and, in most cases, not even for expressing those thoughts. (I am sure that Scott thinks so too.) And, as a general rule, people should not be thrown in prison for life. So this is some sort of exaggeration which (like in a few other cases of Scott’s writing) invites confusion, if not here then in other places where Scott really calls for harsh punishment.

    But, beside the wording, there is also a general issue having to do with punishment. When people deal with sexual assaults their reaction is often: a) The numbers cannot be so high; b) (for a specific case) I don’t believe he did it, I want to see the evidence myself; c) Why take her word and not his? There is a reasonable doubt; d) But if he is guilty, he should be punished in the harshest possible terms, and get out of our lives (or our community, or our nerdy men brotherhood) for ever.

    To a large extent, the denial and the call for ultra harsh punishments are two sides of the same coin: The inability to recognize that there is a serious and wide problem and to cope with it. For sexual assaults and sexual harassment, persecution and measured punishment are important but, in addition to the criminal system (which performs overall rather poorly), the educational system is also crucial, and so is the media, and the welfare system that can offer treatment (and various more things that I don’t remember right now).

  90. Chelsey Says:

    @Kevin I agree, although I didn’t realize that colloquial usage of ‘nerd’ referred to someone as neuro-atypical or on the autism spectrum. If that is so, and particularly if Scott identifies as such (which I might have missed but I don’t think so), then that would certainly change everything. I completely agree with you that ableism is a structural issue, and deserves feminist attention in our commitment to intersectionality. I’m still not sure that ‘nerd’ is (as I was using the word, which as I understand it is a kind of blanket insult used to bully certain people- I’ve been called it plenty of times because I read a lot and like school) a group that experiences structural/systemic exclusion and violence in the same way that disabled people or black people or poor people or gay people or Indigenous people or women do.

    Of course, if the word nerd is universally used to describe people who are actually disabled, then that would be a different story. And then, we shouldn’t be using that word at all.

    I will spend some time thinking about your comment, thank you.

  91. Gil Says:

    It could be interesting to compare sufferings of teenagers from disability to have relations that Scott talks about, and sufferings of teenagers from academic disabilities and failures and especially the fear of mathematics. There is a huge numbers of kids who greatly suffer because of their academic performances. And, of course, like in our case here, suffering and great frustration from academic performance is not limited to those who are very disable but also to those who are able and are obsessed with wanting to achieve more.

    In the case of suffering based on academic performance one can even think that kid’s great suffering is a calculated price that society pays for its needs.

  92. Eggo Says:


    Congratulations, they’re going to come after you.

  93. Scott Triumphs* at the Shtetl | Combinatorics and more Says:

    […] Aaronson wrote a new post on the Shtetl Optimized** reflecting on the previous thread  (that I referred to in my post on […]

  94. Anon. Says:

    Eggo 92: Holy shit, that article is ridiculous. Wow. I hope this Amanda Marcotte is an outlier who is condemned by mainstream feminists.

  95. Anon. Says:

    I found a reasonable discussion of this on reddit:


  96. Scott Says:

    Anon. #94: She isn’t, and that’s a problem.

  97. J Says:

    @ Chelsey

    I’m gay and autistic though also male. I’ve had similar, though far less severe experiences as Scott.

    The intricacies of consent are, I think, usually harder for autistic persons. This defaults among a lot of us with an unwillingness to ask somebody to, for example, dance, on the default assumption that if they don’t want to asking them would be applying an undue amount of pressure and therefore be inappropriate.

    For what it’s worth, I interpret the nice guy/what about the menz/”friendzone/neckbeard” criticism as largely directed at people like me, the relevant quality here not being Autism directly but a tendency to take things very literally and have trouble grasping subtle social nuances (which is very typical, though not universal, for people with autism).

    I’m skeptical that the reason I take offense at this criticism is primarily because I only view women as being there as sex objects for me/believe I’m owed sex by women (see gay) so I see it as fair to interpret that a substantial proportion/especially loud on the internet and the feminist blogging scene (obviously not all or even a majority, I would guess that the majority of my female friends would identify as feminist and very few of them engage in this shaming)
    of self-identified, not especially radical or dworkin-like feminist, many of whom claim to care about intersectionality, have chosen to take categories of men who are either neuro-divergent or have difficulties similar to them (not every person who has lots of trouble understanding social situations is autistic, not every autistic person has trouble understanding these situations) and use them as a whipping boy, demonize them, and treat complaints about being percieved as sexually undesirable and the negative consequences of that (which they generally recognize as legitimate complaints coming from, say, gender-nonconforming or members of the fat acceptance movement) as complaints that women they like won’t have sex with them. I do understand that some of these terms say “friendzone” and “nice guy” are not meant to apply except in cases where there is genuine misogyny, but, in practice, among a large subset of the community you don’t need to do anything which implies that you believe women owe you sex in order to achieve the label and merely acting in atypical ways may be sufficient to earn you the label and the derision. The terms don’t specifically or entirely apply to neuro-divergent people, but I’ve felt a tremendous amount more toxicity towards me as a neuro-divergent person when reading social justice advocates then, say, highschool, there’s something very wrong with this picture.

  98. Eggo Says:

    Anon #94, she writes for the Guardian. She IS mainstream feminism–certainly more so than any of us.

    I know exactly what she and thousands of others are going to say about the professor’s latest post. He’s going firmly in the “nice guy what-about-the-menz fee-fees wants-a-cookie-for-being-an-ally” bin.
    They’re going to mock him until he cries, and enjoyevery second of it.
    Because that’s all they’re good at.

  99. Rick Says:

    Dear Scott, I’d like to thank you for sticking your neck out a little and for taking some heat on this. I hope you don’t regret it. It is an important topic as it relates to your (and my) right to hold a reasonable and respectful point of view.

    To everyone else, I think Scott wants his words to be weighed and measured by those worthy of doing so. Namely anyone able to think in a balanced way, outside their own circumstance as he is trying to do. The antithesis of such people are those who refute the points based on ad hominem attack (such as the fact he is a privileged male).

    You can see he values broad understanding by how he emphasises that he has read from other perspectives and is engaged in feminist literature and how he identifies people he appreciates. It is polite and constructive.

    You can also see it in the way he responds to others who meet these characteristics. For example, Laurie Penny gets a free pass (well she earned) by taking pains to listen, to understand and to empathise. She is a bit condescending at times (to which I am sure he will respond) but by at least somewhat validating his right to have a genuine point of view she gets respected.

    I decided to write this after seeing yet another Facebook post from an intelligent female friend. This one was cheering for Laurie and calling Scott a douchebag. I doubt she read his comments. I doubt she would read much outside the prevailing narrowness of mainstream gender discussion. I doubt she would have a chance to hear much of the alternative perspectives due to the baying and howling that follows anything but a completely apologetic male voice (or those of male buffoons of last century). The diet of information is the problem and the entry into these debates of people like Scott is essential.

    Gemma #42 makes her point well too. Gemma it is true that pop culture definitely recognises and celebrates the existence of the socially awkward male. And you correctly identifies that the narrative usually solves the guys problems (such as by him becoming a super-hero) and shows him getting the girl. Some nice escapism.

    Perhaps one of the reasons that I found the Tolkien books appealing was that it wasn’t about women. And I’m well aware that whole indexes have been created to track the inadequate female roles in movies. But I think we’re saying a similar thing. I liked watching a nice story that had nothing to do with getting the girl. To escape from that objectification narrative of needing to possess the girl to be ok.

    So Gemma, the people I think that Scott would seek to accept his right to a point of view, to validate it if you like, aren’t the nerdy boys, or the pedlars of hollywood superhero merchandise, but are people like you. Intelligent feminists.

    Interestingly, the girls within within nerd culture have had an amazing ability to understand and to challenge the socially awkward guys. The best i can remember was a small side comment made by Leigh Butler in a Wheel of Time blog. She linked to a stunning rebuke of “nice guys”. This hit me squarely on the mark and changed the way I viewed the world around me.

    So my message to such girls is it is great to have you around and thank you for allowing us to engage in such discussions. Also, please help challenge those who shout down reasonable discussion and don’t allow any men to have an opinion that diverges from their own immovable ownership on the truth. It is incredibly frustrating to not be allowed to have an opinion because I am too privileged to deserve one.


  100. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    amy @74,

    Sure, some people have tenure. I certainly don’t for example and don’t have a problem. I don’t have a problem with him being anonymous. What I object to is using his desire for anonymity as somehow evidence against the feminist movement. (Similarly, I have to wonder whether people like Eggo in comment 73 will update when nothing of the sort predicted happens.)

  101. Devos Kerry Says:

    Great post Scott, and excellent and touching Comment 171. Seriously.

  102. Alex Says:

    I’d never encountered your work or writing before, but I read your now-viral comment on your experience as a shy nerd and found it very moving. I’ve subsequently seen some of the more unpleasant responses to it from people on twitter, as well as a truly awful and frankly nasty article by a feminist commentator that I’m sure you’ve seen (not the Laurie Penny one). And that’s made me want to reach out to you to tell you how much I respect and admire your courage in speaking so honestly and movingly about your struggles. And also to tell you how clearly your thoughtfulness, your compassion, your obvious *lack* of a sense of entitlement, all comes across – I don’t think any person of good will could read your comment and come away with any impresion other than that of a kind and intelligent man speaking thoughtfully about something very personal. It’s infuriating that some people are capable of such gross misreadings of people’s words. But the vast majority of the reactions I’ve seen have been admiring and fair-minded, so I guess the best response is just to ignore the unpleasant people – they weren’t ever going to genuinely listen to what you or anyone else had to say.

    So I want to reiterate how much I respect you for revealing so much of yourself and your personal suffering. I know it resonated with a lot of people and I am certain that there are many who have had similar experiences who will be helped by your talking about it. You’ve also gained an extra reader of your blog (in spite of my mathematical ignorance!).

  103. clayton Says:

    A world without structural problems would still have problems. Feminism is of the former type, but Scott talks about a real, non-structural problem all the same. It doesn’t mean he thinks structural problems are make-believe!

  104. M Says:

    Scott – thank you very much for taking the time to post this and your “comment 171”. As a shy nerdy male I strongly identified with your thoughts and experiences. I definitely don’t agree with everything you said, but I agree with enough of it that it’s one of the best comments I’ve read on the topic online – and really respect your courage in saying it.

    What I liked most was that you were seeking appeasement, and looking for a reasonable common ground. As is the case in polarised debates, deep down most people don’t want appeasment – they want a fight. So they picked one or two of the more extreme things and decided that that was your whole argument.

    A lot of people have mentioned how this is just a personal problem, not a structural one. That’s a really important point, and it’s where I would disagree.

    One thing that really struck a chord with me from “comment 171” was how ideals of feminism clashed with your practical experience of dating women. That when you treated women with respect you got nowhere, but other men who treated them like pieces of meat were successful. I can understand and as a “nice guy” it ignites fury in me. And it is – I think – a structural problem, not a personal problem.

    I am a fan of feminism, and in favour of two aspect in particular. The first is a woman’s right to control her body, and choose her own relationships, of whatever duration she wants. The other is a woman’s right to be treated respectfully by men – no ass-grabbing, no subtle humiliations, no abuse, no aggression etc.

    No matter how much you care about both, there’s a case when you can’t have both. Namely: what do you do when a woman of her own free will chooses to be with a man who is an asshole to her? Which is more imporant: that woman’s free choice to be treated badly if she wants, or that treating women badly is so serious in principle that it overrides the woman’s right to choose? This isn’t a practical or moral problem: it’s a logical one. You can’t ask for both because it makes no sense.

    I think that most people think the woman’s free choice is more important. So we have to accept some of the consequences of this – that men will treat women with less respect, because even though women say this is not what they want, their actions indicate that sometimes it’s ok. (Except for guys like me who treat women with respect on principle.)

    As a lefty liberal, I believe that personal freedom is less important than the social good. If you genuinely want women to be treated well then you also have to accept some of the consequences of that: that sometimes people make terrible choices in their relationships, and rather than just shrugging this off saying “well, it’s her choice”, you should find this as socially unacceptable as racism or sexism. As a shy, nerdy male who treats women well this would certainly help me. And, if you’re a woman and you feel (like I do) that women always deserve to be treated with respect, then surely it would help you too?

  105. Vadim Says:

    The article Eggo linked to in #92, I think teaches a good lesson: a group of people are not a monolith. Among feminists there there are many, many who want to have a serious discussion about serious problems; some of them have posted here. And there are others, like the author of the linked article, who are dishonest demagogues interested in muckraking. You see it in every sphere. You have conservative journalists like George Will and you have conservative members of the media like Bill O’Reilly. You have people who care about the relationship between police and minority communities and you have people just looking for an excuse to attack the police. I’d encourage anyone dissatisfied with a group such as feminists, as Anonymous Berkeley Professor and others are, to consider that they’re only dissatisfied with a proper subset of that group. Don’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Try to engage with the best representatives of an idea, not the worst.

    And no doubt people will say that it’s up to the reasonable members of a movement to disavow the radicals that are co-opting their ideas for another purpose, but I’m sure it gets tiring constantly disavowing people who you don’t feel have anything to do with you. And when you do, no one listens or remembers anyway.

  106. Eggo Says:

    Vadim, it’s ironic that you chose George Will, since we all know who tried to get him fired.
    And nobody spoke up for him. They won’t stand up for anyone, because standing up for The Enemy makes you a filthy traitor.

    You’re asking too much of them.

  107. Eggo Says:

    Joshua #100,
    You can bet I’ll be here to acknowledge it. You can’t imagine how happy I would be if I was proven wrong, and sensible people actually stood up against the vicious radicals.
    I’d give them a cookie for basic human decency, because they’d have earned it.

  108. simaetha Says:

    With thanks to Scott for an intelligent and interesting post, a few points which I feel might make some slight contribution to the discussion:

    1. Can people stop comparing oppressions? Speaking as a female feminist, I agree that basically every problem I have ever experienced pales in comparison to being a black woman living in Darfur. That doesn’t mean I’m going to shut up and agree that the gender wage gap is basically trivial. I can care about more than one problem at once.

    So, if there’s a way to make the lives of shy male nerds better without hurting anyone else, we should do that. You don’t have to sacrifice the feminist project to make other things happen.

    2. Is this a feminist issue?

    There seems to me a level on which the feminist aspect is a red herring – that is, the issue is not so much “feminism broke the romantic scripts people like me once relied on” but “I felt lots of shame and anxiety about social interaction, particularly sexual interaction”.

    I mean, I may be projecting here myself, as a young woman who has had her own experiences with depression and social anxiety. But it seems to me that there are a lot of nerdy young people – like I was, like Scott was, like Laurie Penny was – who do feel a lot of shame and loneliness and unhappiness, which is not getting picked up on as a social problem.

    I’m just thinking about if Scott had framed this primarily as a “mental health crisis among a particular class of young people” issue, rather than a “feminist messages are hurting certain young men” issue. Does this remove some of the temptation to read Scott’s posts as another Nice Guys Have Trouble Dating iteration?

    3. Obviously, mainstream feminism can suck. I’m hardly going to disown it as a movement because feminism has been a hugely positive and helpful force in my own life, but there are definitely plenty of feminists who are racist and transphobic and so on. Being a feminist does not mean you get an Enlightenment Card which prevents you from ever being an oppressor yourself.

    So I’m open to the possibility that mainstream feminism is hurting shy male nerds. Or even, to put it in activist terms, feminists need to check their mental health privilege.

    What are the solutions, though? Because obviously “don’t sexually harass women” is basically an important message (not that Scott is saying otherwise).

    Which I think does come down to things feminists *have* been saying for a while, about “yes means yes” and needing models for consensual relationships rather than just decrying abusive ones (though the latter is still necessary, or course). Preventing harm is harder than it sounds, but how do you teach people what actual healthy interaction looks like once you’re past that? This isn’t a finished project.

  109. Kevin Says:

    @chelsea #91

    Thank you for your kind response. I definitely didn’t do the best job unpacking the nerd / ASD connection, so let me just clarify. “nerd”, as you’ve suggested, is a colloquialism that is vague and can be applied to anyone. Persons affected by ASDs are very often (I would argue universally in the US) coded as “geeks”, “nerds”, “spazzes”, “freaks” etch urging the developmental phases or our lives precisely due to our perceived failures to meet social norms that presume neuro-typicality that spring from the disorders that affect us. It is this that makes us targets for ridicule and violence in our developmental phases (and often, beyond). This may be perpetrated against some blanket “other” known as “nerds” that can very well also contain a multitude of persons not affected by any disorder. But the fact is that our emergent lived-in experiences demonstrate we are so often lumped in with this group, targeted for humiliation and violence specifically due to the social difficulties that arise from the disorders that effect us. I would actually argue the entire cultural construct of the “nerd” as a person to be ridiculed is driven by the ableist intuition that people should be able to conform to certain nuerotypical social performance norms. So even if one in no way intends to engage in ableism by using derogatory “nerd shaming” language, that person in the least is failing to take a intersectional issue into account. It cannot be written off as the cost of business fighting another along another axis of oppression. Not acceptable collateral damage. Intersectionality requires multiple iterations of “centering” on any social issue. That said, I want to reiterate that none of what I’ve said justifies the male privilege driven entitlement that too many men who self-identify as nerds feel with regard to romantic reltionships. I totally agree with your and Laurie Penny’s intuitions on this and want to say that explicitly.

  110. JeffE Says:

    Scott #17:

    …segregating the nerdy kids: putting them in full-year MathCamp-like environments where they can socialize with their peers

    Speaking as yet another former nerdy kid with crippling social anxiety, especially around members of the opposite sex, I sincerely hope that you are deliberately pushing an idea to an extreme to see how insane it is.

    I sympathize, sincerely and personally, with the pain you experienced as a teenager, and I applaud your bravery in sharing it here. Been there, done that (except for the sharing part), wore the burger, ate the T-shirt. But hiding nerdy kids away in some sort of ivory-tower gated community with their “peers” is a horrible response. I mean that literally; the idea fills me with horror.

    and where the routes to status

    “Status”? Really? Not “success” or “happiness” or “self-confidence” or “maturity” or even “fulfilling relationships”? Yes, status is important—apes gonna ape. But surely that’s not your real aim.

    bear at least a vague resemblance to what they’ll be for the rest of the kids’ lives

    I’m sorry, Scott, but this reads to me as nothing but entitled intellectual snobbery. Only a tiny minority of nerdy kids—even smart nerdy upper-middle-class pale-skinned American boys—grow up to be professors at MIT or Illinois, or even a rough approximation thereof. Most nerdy kids’ lives bear no resemblance to MathCamp. We are very lucky, you and I; don’t mistake our luck for common experience or destiny.

    Yes, life for nerdy kids can be extremely painful, and like all kids in pain, they need and deserve help. But segregating them from the big scary world with “their peers” is not help; it’s avoidance.

  111. Vadim Says:

    Eggo #106,

    In “their” defense (I’m assuming you’re talking about his campus rape article), what George Will wrote was stupid and he deserved to be called out for it. But I think his column was simply wrong, which isn’t to minimize the consequences, but it’s not the sort of professional demagogy you see from the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. The writer of the article you linked, Amanda Marcotte (who once wrote that anyone questioning the presumption of guilt in the Duke lacrosse rape case was “rape loving scum”), is in the Limbaugh/Coulter camp and should not be taken as a serious person.

  112. Lindsay Says:

    Scott, thank you so much for putting yourself out there like this. I found what you wrote incredibly comforting and relatable, even though we have almost nothing in common (I am a decidedly non-nerdy female). Even though the Internet is really good at chastising people who speak their minds with vicious comments and death threats, I love that it also led me to find intellectual common ground in such an unlikely place.

    You inspired me to write this:


  113. John Doe Says:

    simaetha #108:

    Seriously, the pay gap? That pay gap that has been discredited hundreds of times now, that pay gap that is a result of women’s choices? That 1.3% pay gap in FAVOUR of young, unwed, childless women?

    If you want to be taken seriously you should not cite statistics that have been discredited countless times, it makes you seem, at best, uninformed and, at worst, an ideologue.

  114. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    Eggo, do you want to up the ante on that slightly? Say if it happens I’ll donate $20 to a charity of your choice and not you’ll donate $20 to a charity of my choice?

  115. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    JeffE #110,

    Can you expand on why Scott’s proposal fills you with horror? It may be that I’m biased from my own personal persepctives of such summer programs, but some of the best experiences I had in highschool were at the PROMYS summer program, and when I was an undergraduate I was a counselor for the program. There were students (both male and female) who literally cried at the end of the program that they were going to have to go back to regular life. That wasn’t a large fraction of students, but they were there. That’s the sort of people that comment is relevant to.

  116. Corey Says:

    Regarding the update:

    So, “privilege”. It’s a term of art; it means a specific thing. An analogy: if the subject is systematic oppression, then the negative space is privilege. Privilege is nothing more than the fair treatment that anyone could reasonably expect in a world free of systematic oppression, but which in this world is only available to some identifiable subset of people.

    Since you seem to doubt the empirical content of the concept, let me be clear that the existence of various forms of privilege is precisely as empirically verifiable as the existence of various forms of systematic oppression; privilege and oppression are two sides of the same coin.

    I’m not sure how much sense it makes to talk about “the privilege of not being miserable”. I suppose one could argue that exposure to feminist thought caused your immiseration — propaganda can certainly be a means of oppression. But in my view, systematic oppression requires intent; it’s about zero-sum (or negative-sum) maneuvering to favor one class of people over another. Insofar as saddling you with crippling anxiety and self-hatred was not an intended effect of the anti-harassment workshops you attended, it does not seem to me to be systematic oppression per se, but rather some other form of heretofore unrecognized public health hazard. (I’m on board with tumblr linked by anon #45; the ideals of feminism are good, but more and more I get that sense that something’s gone fucky with the execution, and reassessment and optimization of methodology is called for.)

  117. Scott Says:

    JeffE #110: Thanks for your comment.

    My proposal seems little different from the math and science magnet schools that some areas of the U.S. (too few) already have and that are extremely successful—I just want to make it more widespread and have it start earlier.

    All humans naturally want to be valued by their peers. Status-seeking becomes pathological only when the routes to status have nothing to do with creating any real value for the world—when it’s all about what you wear, who you can put down, or which strategic alliances you can form. So the challenge, in creating any community, is to align the routes to status with things that are actually important.

    Yes, you and I are incredibly lucky to be doing what we do. But do you not agree that what I described above would be a godsend not merely to future academics, but to ANY kids who care more about something in the external world (software, writing, nature, whatever) than about high-school chimpanzee politics? (Again, see Graham’s Why Nerds Are Unpopular for much more about this.)

  118. Fred Says:

    Hi Scott,

    would you mind explaining this part of your post?

    “[…] that Gentiles shouldn’t be slaughtered to use their blood in making matzo.”

    (my guess is that it’s related to Judaism, but I don’t get it)

    Btw, we’re *all* privileged relative to other individuals or groups, and we often aren’t even aware of it until the other groups bring it up (the dead don’t bring up often enough that being alive is the fundamental privilege).
    One of the reasons I’m so excited about the emergence of VR is that it will allow us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes in a very direct way.

  119. Really_surprised Says:

    I have a few thoughts.

    0) Self-pity is a disaster, and no matter the situation, self-pity will make it worse.

    1) ‘Sex positive’ feminism has been around forever, and it’s hard to understand how you missed it.

    2) Indeed, since forever, a (the!) main subject of the art of women (as for men) has been desire (explicitly in songs, novels, and poems). So how could you believe women are so different? Your reading again seems to have been guided by a need for self-hatred.

    3) Sexual or romantic desires cause serious pain for almost everyone at some point. The particulars are different, of course. But have some perspective. Romantic frustration is normal.

    4) All movements have extremists and rhetorical excesses and errors, and all reading must be taken with a grain of salt. It’s as though you blamed vegetarians for making you believe you were a mass murderer if you’d eaten meat and that you therefore deserved to die. This would be a logical step only for people with deep underlying psychological problems.

    5) I would strongly discourage young people from thinking that feminism causes romantic/sexual frustration. On the contrary!

    6) I agree that the ‘privilege’ and ‘rape culture’ formulations are not the best.

    7) I think that your family, friends and maybe culture at large failed you as a young person. As other people have mentioned, I think this might be partially related to your being a kind of prodigy. I have known many, and they often have their intellectual strength coupled with emotional immaturity. But please don’t put this at the feet of feminism.

    8) I disagree about Lewin although I think it’s debatable

  120. Fred Says:

    VR as the ultimate empathy tool:

    Gender swap in VR:

    What it’s like to be a cow:

    What it’s like to be a chicken:

    What it’s like to fly like a bird:

  121. Gil Kalai Says:

    Thanks, Amy (#48). I like the sound of the official version of Amy Winehouse song better too (and now that you mentioned it I agree about her saddening condition in the live show,) but I was worried that the picture and clip of the official video are not totally suitable for my family-read blog.

    Amy is referring to a post I wrote four days ago entitled “Amy’s Triumph at the Shtetl,” on Amy’s contribution to the previous thread. Today, I added a post “Scott’s Triumph at the Shtetl” on Scott’s nine core beliefs highlighted here.

    Both threads are very interesting but a little depressing. We have a tendency to “learn a lesson” “find the cause” from both personal and collective tragedies and sufferings. In many case there are simply no lessons, or the lessons simply vastly pale compared to the event itself, and also there is nothing/nobody that we can blame or see as the “cause.”

  122. Re #64 "Anonymous Berkeley Professor" Says:

    The paranoid berkley professor seems to project his own apparently perverse view of humans upon his political opponents to discredit their views. Not so effective trick.

  123. A. R. Says:

    Dear Scott,

    You’ll be sick of this topic, but I just wanted to chime in with a quick „Thank you!“ for writing that now infamous comment #171 on your blog. I was born in ´82, spent most of my life in Vienna, Austria, and still had the same experiences as an adolescent that you had. Don’t let anybody tell you that these experiences are „wrong“ just because you told it how it is instead of blaming it all on yourself – because, for example, you read the „wrong“ feminist literature…

    For what it’s worth, if I were you I would drop the topic and NOT pursue it further on your blog – you are out of your depth there, because it is deep in ideological mumbo-jumbo-land, and not subject to rational discourse. Patriarchy as an all-encompassing social reality is a fantasy, as is the „white male privilege“ that apparently ca. 500 million people enjoy. Arguing about this is absolutely futile.

    The rational approach would be to acknowledge that a lot of men are jerks, and a lot of women are, too. Many (most?) people are incredibly superficial in their choice of mates, and yes, that includes women, which are now – tadaa – part of the problem. The rational approach would be to segment „privilege“, or, more precisely, relationships of power, into different social contexts, like work environments, family life, sex life, and so forth. I did not see any of this, not even in Laurie Penny’s article, just reiterations of how „privileged“ nerds are because they are part of today’s pop culture mainstream and apparently all get rich with their nerdiness instead of working crappy nightshifts in IT support.

    I am currently pursuing my second degree after abandoning my first career and am raising a six-year-old daughter alone, because her mother couldn’t be arsed to care about her. While I am trying my best to be a good father and raise my daughter to respect people for the HUMANS they are, no matter their looks, status or other category, I’m quietly laughing whenever I’m presented with how much of an evil, privileged minion of the patriarchy I am in my day-to-day academic environment. What I want to say is: Be what you are, and stop „apologizing“.

    PS: I’m entirely on board with you in terms of what should happen with Walter Lewin’s lectures. Heinrich Heine’s „Where they burn books, they’ll soon burn people.“ applies figuratively.

  124. Chelsey Says:

    “So I’m open to the possibility that mainstream feminism is hurting shy male nerds. Or even, to put it in activist terms, feminists need to check their mental health privilege.”

    I’d agree with that, as a commenter noted above.

    However, I also agree that “blame shouldn’t be laid at the feet of feminism”, as another commenter Really_surprised #119 just noted, as well as pointing out:
    “4) All movements have extremists and rhetorical excesses and errors, and all reading must be taken with a grain of salt. It’s as though you blamed vegetarians for making you believe you were a mass murderer if you’d eaten meat and that you therefore deserved to die. This would be a logical step only for people with deep underlying psychological problems.
    5) I would strongly discourage young people from thinking that feminism causes romantic/sexual frustration. On the contrary!”

    This whole thing is really disheartening to me. I can get on board with a movement to end bullying, and most definitely to end the bullying of neuro-atypical folks or disabled folks. I can get on board with adjusting the rhetoric of some feminists so that it doesn’t inadvertently demonize those with disabilities, mental health issues, and those who struggle with understanding social cues and things like consent (although we still need to talk about consent and entitlement and things like that, because we are trying to prevent a serious thing called rape. perhaps the tone of these ‘strident’ feminists reflects that seriousness).

    As for power and my assertion that we don’t need a Shy male nerd liberation movement, particularly one that throws feminism under the bus… (*cough* men’s rights movement). No we don’t. Liberation movements are undertaken for people who are ‘underprivileged’, or don’t have access to power. The feminism I practice understands this as not having access to, particularly, economic and political power in the same way that other groups do. So if you are going to form any kind of emancipatory movement, first ask yourself:

    “Is my group (shy male nerdiness) being systematically prevented from becoming a manager or CEO?”

    “Am I being systematically prevented from becoming a politician, or President?”

    “Am I being systematically prevented from becoming a tenured professor at a top university?”

    “Is my being a shy male nerd the thing that is keeping me from being rich?”

    “Is my groups access to the above things constrained by things like ideology, threat of violence and social sanction, imprisonment, and so on?”

    If you cannot explain the social-structural, cultural, and systemic factors that prevent you from attaining these heights- which apply broadly to the entire group-, they probably aren’t there.

    Remember I’m not talking about ‘sexual power’ or being popular at school. Those are ways to perhaps accrue some personal ‘power’ over another, or sometimes cultural ‘power’. But they aren’t really economic and political power, which I’d argue is where the real power lays in society because it is in the upper echelons of corporate and political boardrooms where decisions are made that the rest of us have to live with, or die for/ because of. David Graeber has outlined nicely how this is all backed up by the threat of violence.

    Sometimes I think Foucault ruined everything.

    Please note also that the feminism I subscribe to doesn’t say we should just ‘Lean In’ to the situation, i.e. seek to be CEOs of destructive corporations.

    ‘Patriarchy’ is a word used to describe a system of male domination. It is a not a blanket term used to refer to ‘anything evil.’ It is definitely undertheorized because it was summarily attacked by anyone and everyone upon being introduced as a theoretical term. However, for example there is much work that has been done around how patriarchy intertwines with capitalism. It has been more recently used to describe terrains of power, where men and women have varying types and amounts of power.

    One major problem that I see is that people understand feminism as trying to undo problematic interpersonal power dynamics e.g. a man dominating his partner, or trying to undo male-centric ideology. It is much more than that. Feminism tries to explain (and stop) violence against women but it also tries to explain why that violence is happening. Some radical feminists believe that men use violence to control women and ‘keep them in their place’, but I’d say this is not roundly accepted by the majority of contemporary feminists and seems like lazy theorizing to me. Feminism now is much more expansive e.g. see intersectionality or read some work by black feminists or indigenous feminists.

    For a good read that lays out some of these issues, try Hunnicutt (2009) “Varieties of Patriarchy and Violence against Women: Resurrecting “Patriarchy” as a Theoretical Tool.” It’s a tricky concept but it is one that I hold on to because it allows us to assert that there is indeed a system of male domination over women that exists and that we need to ‘smash’ or whatever.

  125. Anonymous Says:

    Hey Scott,

    I’ve been a reader of your blog (and book!) for four or five years or so, since being linked on Less Wrong. I came across comment #171 a couple of days ago from Scott Alexander’s link round-up on his blog, and I just wanted to add my voice to those saying thank you for writing it. I seem to have had a very similar experience to yours, and as with many of Scott Alexander’s posts, your comment made me feel *so much* less alone (I’m also in my late teens, and studying maths and computer science). So, thank you! I’m so glad you chose to write it.

  126. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Scott,

    Just wanted to add to the pile of thank-you notes for Comment #171 and related discussion. Like you, I’ve spent a lot of time grappling with the cognitive dissonance that often stands between male sexuality and feminist ideology. Next year I start on the tenure track, and have been wondering if I’m going to spend much of that time alone and unhappy… Anyway, hearing your story helped.

  127. Manrammer Says:

    So Scott, now you know that patriarchy was responsible to for your low self-consciousness, and your inability to use your own intellect without the guidance of another (sapere aude)

    Luckily these feminists know more about yourself and your uprining than you do, therefore your autoritarian longing for guidance and rules will get satisfied once again.
    Now, be a nice boy and check your privilege and watch what you say, cause you actually have no clue about anything concerning your own experiences.

  128. Kevin Says:

    Scott, my issue with what you’ve said, and this goes to your original comment on through your many responses and rebuttals, mainly to Amy, are you are blaming feminism for your lack of success…

    …but you readily admit again and again that the issues wasn’t women, but your fear and lack of being able to read signs. It was not feminism’s fault that you didn’t ask a girl out until much later, finding out then that many did actually want to date you. But from your words, that’s the reading that I and many others are getting.

    You also seem to separate (although you are finally differentiating a little) society into 3 groups: Shy nerds (who are awesome), Neanderthals (who suck), and women (who choose Neanderthals even though they are awful instead of the shy nerd who won’t even talk to them).

    Don’t you see already that there are major, major flaws in that construction? I’m not a shy male nerd, but neither am I a Neanderthal. So does my “success” come at your SMN expense?

    I’m sorry, but if you aren’t willing to even ask someone out (and let’s not even get into the seemingly common idea among SMN’s that they are owed the love and affection of not just a woman, but one who came straight out of a pin-up magazine), you don’t get to blame feminism, blame some feminist whose ideas aren’t actually held by other feminists, blame other men who aren’t as socially awkward, blame women for not sending you a written invitation for sex.

    And that’s what your comment (again, initial comment and further posts afterwards) read as. “I was 15 in college and afraid to ask out older hot girls, and since none threw themselves at me, there is a problem with feminism”.

    Yes, you are being open, raw and honest. But you don’t get a cookie for that. Your words will be read and interpreted. Hell, you asked for a freaking medal for being a “97% feminist after surviving all that”. Surviving what? Your self-created torment? Again, you admit that it wasn’t others stopping you, but your own fears and insecurities. Why should we reward you for not being a total woman hater today? You really didn’t do anything special.

    And I hate to say it, but I question your feminism. The fact that you seem to quote two feminists, one (Dworkin) who you seem to paint as the “Head” of feminism and the reason it crushed poor lonely you, and the other…Christina Hoff Sommers you link to approvingly…the “feminist” who writes about “The War Against Boys” and is basically against feminism in every way says something. And I know you will be aghast that anyone could read into that. But it does say something about your feminism.

  129. Eggo Says:

    I’d be more than happy to do that, Joshua Zelinsky.
    What conditions do you want to use? Any criticism of the Marcotte “article” in an online publication (rather than a personal blog)? I’d be more than happy to lose that bet.

    My choice of charity is RAINN, for obvious reasons.

    We probably won’t be hearing too much more from the vicious thugs on this, now that they have a juicer target in Kaley Cuoco. They enjoy hurting popular-but-not-too-powerful-to-bully women even more than they enjoy making nerds cry.

  130. Joseph Yau Says:

    This discussion needs to be informed by evolutionary psychology. Nothing makes sense otherwise. To name just one example here, heterosexual girls – feminist or not – need to admit that they are categorically attracted to men with high social status. These high status men don’t necessarily need to be jerks or Neanderthals. It just so happens that higher status is often conveyed through dominant behavior, which resembles what we commonly know as jerkish behavior. Recent research in humor, for instance, suggests that dominant humor, as compared to other types of humor, was more attractive to potential female mates.

    Due to space, I have offered only one point and one example here. But you can already see that men and women, though having much in common, still have powerfully different social motivations. Any sensible social arrangement would not advocate for ‘equality.’ The categories simply don’t compute. In short, we need to reject blanket terms such as patriarchy or male privileged or victimhood. They are too simplistic and do a diservice to any meaningful discussion.

  131. Physics Dude Says:


    “It’s a tricky concept but it is one that I hold on to because it allows us to assert that there is indeed a system of male domination over women that exists and that we need to ‘smash’ or whatever.”

    Do you realize how fanatical this sounds to non-feminists?

  132. Guy Says:

    I’m sorry about your grandfather. It sucks to lose our people.

    I read your comments and I was reminded of something my daughter said. She told me that she was so very tired of saying sorry. You see, around here, it’s First Nations issues that have people upset. Because of my daughter’s chosen profession, she has to take several course in sensitivity training toward people of First Nations ancestry. Course after course in which terrible stories are told and then everyone must write an essay or somehow share how sorry they are for all this. Thing is though that my daughter is herself a First Nations person, except from South America instead of North America. And she also has to undergo sensitivity training regarding gender. And yet she is a woman. The end result is that one semester after another she learned to say sorry over and over again in a variety of ways. She grew weary of this.

    So this is what I was thinking about when reading your post. You’re obviously a well meaning and fair person. And yet you’ve been brow beaten about this topic. I feel for you. I hope that we can get past this because I look forward to reading more about your work.

    For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about all this.

  133. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    Eggo, I’d prefer to focus on the claim you made that Scott is going to be forced to apologize. That seems like a more easily defined aspect to focus on. Specifics of blogs aren’t helpful because it is always easy to get into a No-True-Scotsman type dispute and similar issues.

  134. Chris Granade Says:

    Sorry to chime in so late with this, but I wanted to say thank you for writing your original comment and these updates. There’s much that I don’t agree with, but there’s also a lot that resonates with me more than I generally admit. I’m sorry to see how much your comments have not been met with respectful criticism like Laurie’s, but instead with something more like Marcotte’s article.

  135. Lee Wilson Says:

    Your December 31st posting touched on privilede. I could comment, but something a friend forwarded to me earlier says it in a more concise way: http://amarreloabuuuh.newsrook.com/this-teacher-taught-his-class-a-powerful-lesson-about-privilege-disny/

  136. Eggo Says:

    And I’d prefer to focus on the easily and quickly verifiable “will any feminists of note speak out against the vicious bullies claiming to speak for them?” Since I’d be happy to lose, we can drop the condition down to “published on any non-personal blog”, which should cover just about everything.

    Christina Hoff Sommers would have to be excluded by name, of course. There may be “many feminisms”, but they all seem adamant that hers isn’t one of them, given the “no platform” policy used to shut her up.

    Any retribution Scott suffers for speaking out is going to take a long time to play out, and will be both personal and painful. You know the subtle ways a tenured professor can be made miserable when someone in the administration takes a dislike to them, I’m sure. Nobody wants to keep track of and argue about that for the next five years.
    On the other hand, the “calling out” issue will be settled in no more than a week, unless something very shiny and outrage-worthy happens to catch people’s eyes in the next few days.

  137. Chelsey Says:

    @Physics Dude it’s not really “fanatical”, I don’t think. It’s a theoretical concept that I’m saying needs more study. I think it is useful as a theory, for many reasons. Particularly I think it is useful to people who are working for social change, which is intertwined with but sometimes a bit apart from academia. It is useful kind of like ‘white supremacy’ is useful. Although many people of colour talking about white supremacy will be met with claims that they are being fanatical, and then reactionary ‘white rights’ movements will form (which are actually fanatical).

  138. Ron James Says:

    At some point it becomes necessary to apply Occam’s Razor:

    Feminists don’t care about men’s problems.

    They have enormous, towering mountains of words dedicated to talking in circles around this fact, but they can never do the one thing that would actually rebut it, which is to actually care.

    The author of this blog put out a heartfelt piece of writing about problems he has experienced. The response from people who cared would have been to care. The response of feminists from what I’ve seen breaks into two camps:

    – anger/hate/snark
    – a couple lines of concern followed by dismissal in favor of talking about their own problems

    They don’t do this because they don’t understand, and there’s some right combination of words that will make them understand.

    They do this because they don’t care, and they “misunderstand” because understanding would require them to care. And they don’t care.

    We need to recognize, straightforwardly, that:

    Feminists don’t care.

    Women, generally, don’t care.

    Men who don’t have problems, by and large, don’t care.

    And figure out how to do something for each other, inasmuch as any of us ourselves 1. are in a position to do that, and 2. do care.

  139. Ron James Says:

    Also, adding – the second I read the author of this blog expecting that anyone would acknowledge him agreeing with “97% of feminism” as if this would buy him a shred of consideration for the 3% he disagreed with, I pretty well knew he was fucked, because these people don’t operate that way. Because they don’t care.

    Feminists feel entitled to 100% of your unthinking agreement and will absolutely gut you over whatever 3% you want to hold back.

    It happens time and again in community after community; the story never changes.

    Your only option at this point is to re-evaluate how much you care about that remaining 97%, given that your assumptions that other people believed in the same standards of decency, loyalty, and caring that they expected you to follow, were in fact false all along.

  140. Ron James Says:

    Which is some harsh shit to say to a guy who’s in the middle of his turn on this wheel, I realize.

    It’s just… time and again I see people, and I make this mistake myself, engaging with feminists on the premise that they’re acting in good faith.

    They aren’t, in fact they won’t even acknowledge good faith as a concept.

    They’re operating on the level of internet trolls, and should be viewed accordingly.

    Which is an idea lots of people dislike, because they’ve been taken in by the trolls or are the trolls themselves. But if you’ve had an experience like the owner of this blog and have struggled to figure out why this happened, I’m saying –

    Look at what you’ve been told and what you believe, and then what actually happened, from the perspective that you were being trolled. And see how that compares with the perspective that you were just being honestly misunderstood by decent and well meaning people.

    And see which version of that looks like it matches up for you.

  141. Chelsey Says:

    I think there is a progression people go through, in regards to grappling with their own complicity in systems of domination and oppression. Where the political meets the personal, and ‘identity politics’ are concerned, we are going to be confronted with issues of our own egos and questioning who we are. I’ve seen it happen time and again where people start noticing and reading about these issues, or they are informed about them by women or people of colour (who are often angry about such things, and rightfully), and then go into a guilt and shame spiral where they hate themselves and their maleness or white skin or whatever privilege they have. This can cause a serious crisis- depression, anxiety, even suicidal thoughts. No one likes to think of themselves as harming others, and having potentially done (or will do) it unknowingly can be a terrible thought for a decent and kind person to have.

    But then, what happens next, is in order to resolve this psychological conundrum perhaps the ego comes up with some potent weapons: deny and reject the ideology that made you feel so very miserable (misguided as that misery may be, and how ever much the original ideology did not intend your personal misery and shame).

    This can lead to a few things. One is that you can shout to the world “I’m not ashamed of my white skin, or maleness, or sexual urges!” That is all well and good (although perhaps unnecessary). Some take that a step further and decide that in order to uproot the insidious ideology which made you feel this way, you must construct your own parallel movement that seeks to uphold the rights of people like yourself. This is where reactionary movements like the men’s rights movement are born, elements of which have been classified as hate speech. And this is why feminists give some serious side-eye to folks who’ve decided to shout to the world that they aren’t ashamed to be a man, and sort of throw feminism under the bus while they’re at it.

    The other thing you can do with all of this is, forgive the parts of yourself that have unknowingly and unwittingly contributed to harming others. Realize you are only human and you’re doing your best, and your thoughts and behaviour have been shaped by cultural and societal conditions and historical processes that no one really understands completely or bothered to teach us in school. Commit yourself to uprooting the societal structures and systems that led you to those positions, and commit to uprooting the parts of yourself that still unwittingly harm others. Get in a community of struggle that centres the realities of those who are most marginalized in our society, and work through these issues together. Be gentle with yourself and others. Honour the resistance movements (feminism, civil rights and anti-racism, queer rights, indigenous and anti-colonial resistance, and so on) that led you to your better understanding of the realities faced by the most vulnerable people on our vulnerable planet.

    Let’s call it the ‘third way’. Here’s hoping we can all get there.

  142. Physics Dude Says:


    As a person of color, I don’t see why I should be talking about white supremacy as if it exists today. It’s a thing of the past. Racism still exists, sure. But white supremacy? Long gone. Unless you live in Vidor, TX, it’s really not an issue. Focusing on non-existent white supremacy detracts from solving real problems like actual racism.

    I think most persons of color would agree with me that outright white supremacy is a thing of the past.

  143. Vadim Says:

    Ron #138,

    Again I find it hard to believe that feminists could be so homogeneous. You’re saying that merely supporting women’s issues precludes one from caring about another set of issues? Can feminists be environmentalists, animal rights activists, or have other interests not related to feminism? Not to say that the type of feminist you describe doesn’t exist, but painting with a broad brush unfortunately puts one into the esteemed company of the type of person you’re describing, one that doesn’t see non-members of their group as worthy of understanding or empathy.

  144. Manrammer Says:

    @Ron James

    I am shocked that feminists don’t care about mens issues, and here i was reading all this feminist literature to overcome my crippling social anxiety by looking for rules on how to behave.
    Could it be, that all that talk about ‘privileges’ is actually just a way, to generate said ‘privileges’ for these feminists, by shaming certain behaviors that a large portion of the public engages in?
    Say it ain’t so…

  145. Shmi Nux Says:

    Scott, you might get a kick out of the linear regression model of privilege in response to your statement that solving geek suffering feels as hard as solving P vs. NP:


  146. Lou Scheffer Says:

    I think the fundamental problem here is anxiety, not shyness, maleness, nerdness, or structural problems. If you are always fixated on the worst possible result, every situation will appear bleak. And teenage years, which are already bleak, will seem hopeless.

    Everyone (almost) knows you can’t cure depression just by saying “snap out of it, things aren’t that bad, just make an effort, etc.”. It’s a medical condition, not a frame of mind. I think anxiety, of the level described here, falls into the same category. I’m somewhat surprised the counselor to whom Scott turned did not investigate this angle (though I’m certainly not a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor.)

    I think if you replay the exact same situation, with the exact same Scott (smart, shy, nerdy) but without the anxiety, it comes out very differently. Say at age 16, he’s attracted to a girl (most likely a smart, nerdy girl), sees that other people are asking girls out (and despite the theoretical worst case, not being labelled as serial harassers), screws up his courage, and despite his nervousness asks her. She might say yes, she might say no, but if she’s the type of girl he’s attracted to, even if she says no, she probably says “No thanks”, as opposed to reporting him to the police. So even if he is rejected (which of course hurts) the result is nowhere near the worst case. So he asks someone else, eventually gets a yes (since he’s actually a nice guy), and post #171 never gets written.

    I think this distinction is completely missed by Amanda Marcotte and some of the other commentators. There is a huge difference between “not willing to make an effort” and “suffering from medical-grade anxiety”.

  147. Eggo Says:

    Chelsey, please take a close look at what you’ve said there.
    You’ve left no room for disagreement with any statement of your ideology. In fact, you’ve labeled any dissent “hate speech” right off the bat.

    Do you see something wrong with this in any way?

  148. Amy Says:

    Wow, plenty to catch up with. From bottom:

    Ron James #138 – You could not be more wrong. If you actually read feminist writers of the last 10-15 years, you’ll see a great deal of attention paid to men’s problems, partly because in so many places they’re inseparable from women’s problems, and partly out of a simple impulse to fairness. And if you’d been reading more carefully you’d have seen that this is exactly what Laurie Penny was talking about. Women do care about men’s problems. We just don’t care about them *to the exclusion of women’s problems*, and are not willing to prioritise them over women’s problems, in general — simply because in general, they already have priority (often vast priority) over women’s problems.

    Eggo #136, that’s true about academic slings/arrows, but this is also not Scott’s first time putting something rather personal out there. I might also say that much torment amongst tenured professors is also self-generated; there are always pleasant and unpleasant things to deal with in universities, and end of the day that paycheck is going to show up and clear, there will be students who are a pleasure to teach, and nobody has time to hang over your shoulder day and night; other fights come and go. I say that not out of callousness but to point out the stark opposition to the position of many others who speak up.

    I don’t think that the value here is in “calling-out”, but in the more substantial, and necessary, conversations this one and Scott’s post will have started.

  149. Amy Says:

    Physics Dude #142 – oh, Physics Dude. I wish I could say you are correct. But I’m a white lady who’s not simply tagged “Jewess” these days, and it’s amazing what will fall out of other white people’s mouths in earshot of me. Yes, white supremacy is alive and well and remarkably directly stated. Takes the paint right off the walls.

  150. Chelsey Says:

    @PhysicsDude your statement:
    “I think most persons of color would agree with me that outright white supremacy is a thing of the past.”

    I guess I hang out with different people of colour than you do. I’m not sure the people in Ferguson or NYC or Palestine would agree. If that’s what you contend, then of course you would think of ‘patriarchy’ as a hysterical idea constructed by fanatics.

    Just goes to highlight how far apart people are on these issues.

  151. Amy Says:

    Shmi #145 – maybe they should return the the question of what it’s like to be a chicken.

  152. Philip White Says:

    Scott and others: This has become a thoughtful discussion about shy nerdy men who are shamed or otherwise abused for their feelings about women. I am curious: What do you think about shy nerdy men who may not be elite mathematicians who get shamed for trying to resolve hard open math problems? I am not referring to myself, although I am a P vs. NP enthusiast too (I just haven’t been harassed that much about P vs. NP); I am referring to some of the debacles like what happened to JSH on sci.math, what happens to Craig Feinstein on cstheory.se, and what happens to some other “shy nerdy men” who get verbally harassed, often by other “nerdy men” just for taking an interest in mathematics without having the “right” educational background. If you type “JSH fermat” into Google (without the quotes), for example, you’ll find a lot of abusive comments. If that isn’t inappropriate shaming, I don’t know what is!

  153. Chris Granade Says:

    (Sorry if any of this has been said already; haven’t caught up on the entire backlog yet.)

    With everything else being thrown around right now, I wanted to just share my own experience with the word “privilege.” I also bristled at the term “privilege” for quite a while, as I didn’t see myself as all that fortunate to have to deal with a lifetime of clinical depression and sometimes crippling anxiety. Something that helped me bridge the gap, though, between the feminist ideals I thought I held and the way I saw them being discussed online was an article by John Scalzi on the topic. He made an analogy that made a lot of sense to me, specifically to that of difficulty settings in a video or tabletop game. It isn’t that white male straight and cis privileges didn’t mean I wasn’t having a very hard time with depression and anxiety mid-PhD, but that it would be so much worse without those privileges. Talking and more importantly, listening, to the women around me, there were so many stories of harassment and discrimination that were completely outside of what I was dealing with, I can hardly imagine what it must be like to compound that with difficulties such as the mental health concerns I was dealing with. Honestly, it’s something I’m still trying to reconcile, and it’s been two and a half years since I read that article. These things take a lot of time and reflection to grok, I think; time that is ill-afforded by a flamewar, unfortunately.

  154. Manrammer Says:


    I’ve read plenty of feminist literature and blogs. If you bring up men’s issue the response is almost always that you are ‘derailing’ (which is what Penny Red does in her reply to Scott Aaronson) the discussion.

  155. Amy Says:

    Re Kevin’s #128 –

    So here’s the crux, I think. Because, if I’ve got this right, Scott is saying “yes, my suffering was a function of my psychology and my misreading, but it *would not have happened* had feminism surrounding sexual assault worked in a more sensitive way, *and* this needs addressing because I’m representative of others.”

    Apart from any immediate thoughts I might have about the loudness of one’s own suffering, the fact that many people suffer profoundly, that many (many) people are suicidal, that many go through torments and yet are resilient, and that perhaps far too much is being laid at the doorstep of feminism (which is largely Laurie’s point, I think) — and apart from any thoughts I might have along the lines of “of course, any hurt should be attended to” — two questions come up in my mind.

    One, since we’re in a quantifying mood: all right, Scott. You’re representative. But how representative? This is important, because end of day, when you’re talking about things like anti-assault/harassment classes, you’re talking about mass communication, law, and policy, not (again) the world of the novel, which exists on a deeply personal level and can afford to be richer and more complex.

    Two, what I hear is, “This feminism you want me to live by is defective. Fix the feminism and I’ll accept it.” But I am not hearing any contribution — not “jump to endpoint because I like to”, but realistic and workable contribution — to solving the problems in feminism that existed for you. Nor am I hearing about any serious research into feminism to see if maybe some feminist researchers or theorists (actually regarded as feminists) have already addressed your problem in a way that’s appealing to you.

    Okay, must take car in before they’re sorry they said I can come in late.

  156. Muga Sofer Says:

    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. This might sound facetious, but it’s really not

    I think there’s more to it than this. “Patriarchy” means (roughly) “sexism”, not “anything bad”; the same way “Satan” means “human evil”, and you won’t get anywhere by calling a natural disaster “Satan” and claiming to be using the Church’s terminology. You really do come across as facetiously dismissing them, here.

    I think you could, not unreasonably, argue that this is caused by lingering sexist attitudes infecting Feminism; or even that it’s caused by ambient sexism in our society, and the attitude some feminists have toward it is a distraction, not the cause. Those are actual arguments, not tautologies.

    The key difference isn’t “Patriarchy”, it’s Feminism. Feminists usually mean “equality” by the term, whereas you mean the movement “feminism”. So they hear you saying “equality ruined my life”, rather than “these (sexist!) claims, which I heard from feminists, ruined my life”.

    It’s well-known that feminism-the-movement isn’t perfect; look to attitudes toward trans women, which have now been fixed and indeed become quite progressive. Or look at the whole revolution in the representation of black women in feminism. This is the same problem; you just need to communicate that.

    (For the record: nerdy male, and I recognize your description – but I had never heard any of this from feminists, or connected the “nice guy” stuff to myself until now. I was pretty shocked to hear the responses to your comment, but it definitely strengthens my sympathy for your perspective. It hasn’t been as bad for me, but I think this is definitely a product of myself and the expectations of society in my case, not feminism.)

  157. Anon. Says:

    Can some of the feminists commenting here – Chelsey, Amy, Gil, etc. – comment on Amanda Marcotte’s piece (comment 92)? Is it safe to assume that everyone found it disgusting? I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page.

  158. Muga Sofer Says:

    Amy #149:

    Firstly, awesome to see you’re here again! I was a big fan of your earlier comments on this when someone linked to them.


    Ron James #138 – You could not be more wrong. If you actually read feminist writers of the last 10-15 years, you’ll see a great deal of attention paid to men’s problems, partly because in so many places they’re inseparable from women’s problems, and partly out of a simple impulse to fairness.

    I think it’s likely you’re both talking about different feminists.

    Certainly, I’ve been in conversations that contained (female) feminists who thought men’s problems were baloney, and who thought men’s problems were just as much “feminism” as women’s problems because they were caused by the same system of discrimination.

    I don’t know how atypical my circle of friends is, but my prediction would be that the awful responses Scott is getting come from people who are *very likely* not to care about, and to make similarly sarcastic, awful comments about, other men’s problems. And that the good responses Scott is getting come from people who are very likely to already care about men’s problems, if not (perhaps, IDK) care enough about them or this specific problem.

  159. Janet Says:

    Fred #118: The section of the post you ask about refers to the blood libel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_libel

  160. Eggo Says:

    Seeing a disturbing number of excuses for Marcotte’s behaviour, and very little condemnation.
    It’s justified for her to give “serious side-eye” like that article to anyone she likes, because some of the many people she disagrees say things that “have been classified as hate speech”?

    Also, interesting use of the passive voice to imply that the active decision to label an opposing views as “hate speech” is simply some sort of… natural, almost mechanical process not subject to human error.

  161. Eggo Says:

    “some of the many people with whom she disagrees”

    “decision to label opposing views as”

    This depressing nonsense is starting to get to my ability to string a proper bloody sentence together. Time to duck out and give up on anything productive coming out of this mess.

  162. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    Chelsea, please explain how anything related to the Palestinian situation has to do with “white supremacy”- before you do so, it may help to a) realize that not every post-colonial conflict falls into the exact same framework and b) that many Israeli Jews are of Ethiopian descent and are thus far less “white” than any Palestinians and c) that conflict has in many ways more to do with nationalism than ethnicity.

  163. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    Eggo, Chelsea didn’t say that: she said that some elements of the MRA rhetoric is hate speech. Not the same thing. I’m not sure what hate speech is, whether it is a well-defined concept or even a useful category to have at all, but if it is, it seems like it wouldn’t be hard to point to some comments by MRAs that fall into the category; now that may be because pretty much any group has some people who are going to say hateful things, or it may be because there’s genuinely more of it in the MRA movement, but that’s a distinct set of questions from Chelsea’s remark.

  164. Chelsey Says:

    @Eggo. Nope, I didn’t label any dissent ‘hate speech.’ I labeled the men’s rights movement or, say, a white rights movement as reactionary, for reasons I outlined above. I then said that elements of the men’s rights movement have been labeled as hate speech, which was not done by me but by none other than the Southern Poverty Law Center. And I agree.

    I’m quite happy for people to disagree with my ideology. Someone above pointed out how elements of feminist rhetoric, including my own, can reinforce ableism or be hurtful to those who are neuro-atypical. I incorporated that into a new understanding of the world because the argument made sense to me and reflects a view of reality that understands social structural discrimination and the lived realities of people within those structures.

    I’m also quite happy to support everyone being nicer to shy nerdy people, but I certainly won’t throw decades of feminist theory and movement building under the bus to do so, and I certainly won’t subscribe to reactionary and plain wrong interpretations of reality– particularly ones that enable continued violence both structural and interpersonal.

  165. Michael Says:

    Scott, it’s no wonder some commenters find you’ve made to many concessions to pc-ishness. “Gentiles shouldn’t be slaughtered to use their blood in making matzo” So what are we supposed to use instead? Some sort of kale-quinoa blend?

  166. Amy Says:

    Oh! I’m an idiot. Scott, you’re what, early 30s? And you started college at 15, so 15, 20 years ago, or mid-90s-ish. (I’m sure this is on your cv, but roughly.) In other words, coinciding roughly with the first years of talking about date rape on college campuses, Katie Roiphe’s Morning After, Camille Paglia’s purse on a park bench, all that stuff. Not to mention the aftermath of the nationwide hysteria about satanic, pedophiliac cults operating in American daycares (which is what happens when you have a career, Mom, and leave your child in a daycare).

    You came in for hard times and a seriously bumpy ride, in other words (as did everyone else joining the conversation around that time, when postmodernism was swallowing second-wave feminism). This would have been a rough environment for earnestness in any direction. Have there been changes since, yes, and that shows up in…every aspect of gender discussion (which, as I recall, only began to be called gender discussion in those years) I can think of. Quite a lot has come along unreformed, too. I see thinking from those years bubble up all the time, mint.

    Anyway. More later, or tomorrow, I hope. To a happy and healthy new year with much good conversation.

  167. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    Ron James #138,

    For a concrete example of a feminist paying serious attention to problems with men look at Noreen Abdullah-Khan. She done a lot of work on how gender issues in the United States have made it extremely difficult for male rape victims (both when raped by men and when raped by women). This isn’t the only example, but one of the more clear cut. I like also using this example because Abdullah-Khan is a very good writer who also carefully uses data (using actual data carefully is a in general a problem that the feminist movement does actually have).

  168. Mike Says:

    Scott, thanks for writing this post (and comment #171). Like you, I was trapped in an adolescence where I believed that normal male behaviour toward women was verboten. I steadfastly hid any attraction I had toward women. I didn’t receive attention from any of them—unsurprisingly, since I behaved with the utmost platonicity toward them. I felt completely worthless sexually, and, yes, resented womankind accordingly.

    I gradually learned the error of my ways: that healthy, respectful male assertiveness is not only okay but positive for everyone. That it is not evil to lust after a woman. That being respectful of women doesn’t mean bowing to their every wish, but instead sometimes means taking charge of a situation. I eventually lost my virginity at the age of 25 and am now 33 in a fulfilling relationship, so all was not lost. But I would have been much happier in life had I not missed out on 10 years of living in direct opposition to my essential maleness.

    I don’t directly blame feminism for what happened to me, or feel the slightest resentment toward women. I do blame the lack of positive male role models around me and in media (instead, tv contained only sniveling doufuses or assholes) and in education. This is the thing that needs to be corrected most urgently.

    I can’t claim that I haven’t been privileged. Career-wise I am doing great, thanks to my fortune of being born to the middle class, to suffer no discrimination due to sex or race, and to my talent and hard work. But in my non-career life, it took me years of effort to get to a semi-stable situation socially and sexually. It was extra humiliating because you can’t blame any exogenous factors for your situation: it’s not because you’re male, or white. You can’t derive support from an identification with your “group” (race or gender) because that is strictly forbidden. All that’s left is you: you fundamentally suck at this critical aspect of humanity and will always suck.

    Fixing this problem seems like it would be in everyone’s best interests. Aside from the guys affected, having nerds generally be more socially comfortable around the other gender can’t help but improve tech culture. I’m sure it’s possible to do it in a way that doesn’t cause these men to turn into raping assholes. Furthermore, it doesn’t surprise me that there is a growing overcompensation in the form of PUA culture. Showing more of the correct middle ground will lessen the pool of recruits for these movements.

    Again, thanks Scott. I really helped to hear your story.

  169. dhaus Says:

    As a non-white guy who neverthless has had the kind of problems Scott outlined but is slowly improving on them with some success, I want to +10 Gemma Mason’s reply (#42).

    I also agree with Scott that it’s much healthier for a society if status is aligned with things that actually contribute to society. While this problem is universal, it seems to me to be particularly bad in the US. In many other countries in the world (Asia, Eastern Europe) and cultures like the Jewish culture, education and smarts do bestow some status amongst the general populace compared to how it is in the United States so maybe one could start figuring out why that is 🙂 Even in Western Europe from what I understand, there’s less social stigma to being a math nerd compared to the US.

  170. Vijay D'Silva Says:

    Chelsea #137, PhysicsDude #142, Amy #149: Note that PhysicsDude is using “white supremacy” to describe the status quo about a century ago, in a context where racial superiority was built into the law, or explicitly espoused in public venues and platforms, and both accepted and enforced. Note also that he is distinguishing between white supremacy and racism, so he is not at all saying there isn’t a racial component to the Ferguson or Eric Garner situations.

    @PhysicsDude: Chelsea and Amy are using “white supremacy” in a different, and broader sense than you are.

    @Chelsea #150

    I guess I hang out with different people of colour than you do. I’m not sure the people in Ferguson or NYC or Palestine would agree. If that’s what you contend, then of course you would think of ‘patriarchy’ as a hysterical idea constructed by fanatics.

    Just goes to highlight how far apart people are on these issues.

    This comment is crucial. It does show how far apart people are on these issues, but to me that situation is reasonable and to be expected. PhysicsDude is a person of colour and I interpret their comment as saying their personal life experience does not lead them or other people of colour around them to believe white supremacy is an issue. This is a great situation to be in. I will agree that one should not generalize from personal experience to the entire population and will even agree that such blindness is problematic, but one bad generalization does not invalidate that experience.

    The experience of a person of colour somewhere in the world, a black black person somewhere in the world and a black person in the United States are different and a lot of context is required before a random person of colour reading a blog comment can interpret what you say. I am not pointing this out because I want to have a conversation about colour but because the same issue of people coming from different contexts and interpreting terms differently is running through the discussion.

    Note also that I interpreted PhysicsDude as saying a sentence of the form “X exists and we need to ‘smash’ or whatever” sounds fanatical, independent of what X is. So I don’t think they were making any statements about patriarchy at all in that comment. Though, PhysicsDude, please correct me if reality is otherwise.

    Finally, I could not see from your comment what white supremacy has to do with the people of Palestine.

  171. Chelsey Says:

    @Joshua yes those distinctions about Palestine-Israel conflict are important and I noticed after I posted that I shouldn’t have lumped them in while originally talking about white supremacy, although I did so because 1. Activists in Ferguson and Palestine have been themselves drawing connections and making analogies between their respective struggles- i.e. facing a power structure that largely regards them as fanatical, radical, and delusional in their assertion of being oppressed and victims of injustice (and then the expected backlash and reactionary movements are born); and 2. the actual physical, material connections such as US diplomatic and financial support of the state of Israel, military funding, and so on (which flows in both directions- e.g. Israeli military training US domestic police forces). So to me, a structure of white supremacy is implicated in what is happening to Palestine for many reasons both metaphorical and material.

    My main point being that people seem to be living in alternate realities here, where the voices of people experiencing injustice are regarded as fanatical, radical, and delusional and we can’t have any rational discussions about who is actually experiencing injustice, because we can’t disentangle the threads of personal suffering from structural violence. The only way out that I see is supporting the theoretical and movement work of people in feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial struggles.

    That all being said, I agree with Amy that feminism could do with incorporating certain insights that have been generated here in regards to hearing the voices of men particularly ones who are struggling the most, and most definitely could be more sensitive to mental health issues, disability, and so on. I will carry this forward into my work. Thanks all.

  172. Amy Says:

    Just rereading the last thread, & coming up for air (and guests) with two thoughts:

    1. That thread seems relatively calm, and I think it’s worth dipping back into that mood;

    2. Scott’s #217, about the difficulty of navigating the rules — recognizing them, even — and penalties for boys/men…it’s worth a reread.

  173. pb Says:

    I was sent to this blog post with a complete lack of awareness about the storm that surrounded it; I didn’t manage to read through all the comments here.

    My insulated responses to Comment #171, what I interpret of the comment it was responding to, and this follow-up post:

    Sexual harassment and male privilege shouldn’t be conflated. (Traditional forms of) sexual harassment cause part of the conditions of male privilege. If a person is terrified of sexually harassing somebody to the point of wanting to be chemically castrated, he is not actively contributing to the conditions of male privilege in this way (and going above and beyond in an effort to not contribute). This does not have any bearing on whether he benefits from existing conditions of privilege or whether he unknowingly preserves the privilege in other ways.

    The original comment mentioned gropy and misogynistic nerdy guys. Gropiness and misogyny is, sadly, too common everywhere. I don’t buy it as a reason for exclusion of women from STEM. On the other hand, however, nerdy, entitled shy guys still benefit from the default assumption that they belong in STEM, and benefit from silent technical privilege. Note that this has nothing to do with sexual harassment! Agonizing for years about ones sexuality doesn’t help a single minority in STEM overcome her lack of privilege.

    Scott – I believe that the only flaw in your discussion of this has been buying into the framing that sexuality has something to do with the gendered (and in some cases ethnic) exclusion of individuals from STEM. Your tortured adolescence and early adulthood is its own painful sexuality story, that should inspire assistance for all individuals suffering from this problem. But as I struggle to advance in my career as both a woman and a minority in STEM, and while I continue to have the same agonizing issues you had regarding sexuality that you were able to ditch when you were at least 5 years younger than I am, I find the feminism-for-women-in-STEM vs male-nerd-sexuality-problem dichotomy to be absurd.

  174. Distribution Says:

    Scott, I would like to discuss the idea that your hardships are “individual” or “personal,” while the hardships of women are “structural”, “institutionalized”, “systematic” or “cultural.” This seems like an incredible double standard.

    You are not alone. There are many men who have overlapping experiences with yours. Maybe people can dismiss these stories if men speak up one by one, but there are enough men with this story that the pattern is clear. While the magnitude of your difficulties was unusual, it is not merely “individual” or “personal.”

    What shall we make of the claim that your suffering lacked some sociological context, like not being “institutionalized” or “structural”? Well, your experience was definitely “institutionalized” hardship, because of authority figures and university workshops giving you messages about sexual ethics that were harmful, patently false, contradictory, or impossible to satisfy if taken literally. So we can cross off “institutionalized.”

    “Structural?” Well, feminists think that the social structure is a hierarchy of privileged men oppressing women. So, of course, if we see something bad happening to men, it doesn’t fit into their idea of “structure” or “oppression”! But if we step out of their narrow Kuhnian paradigm, and acknowledge that society is a complicated place with multiple dimensions of disadvantage, then the notion of men being structurally oppressed (on some dimensions) makes perfect sense.

    For example, someone can be doing well on the socioeconomic dimension of life, but struggling on another dimension, such as mental health or relationships. If those mental health or relationship struggles were exacerbated by abuse, culture, or institutions, then that should qualify as oppression.

    If Scott was a woman who was driven to anxiety by cultural messages, then feminists would consider that oppression, even if the woman was white and socioeconomically well-off. Even in cases of mental health issues, such as anorexia, feminists have no trouble recognizing that cultural messages can exacerbate the problem.

    Feminists seem very invested in seeing female disadvantages as part of a larger system, and male disadvantages as isolated exceptions. Men’s mental health and success in sex and relationships is considered personal, and women’s mental health and success in sex and relationships is considered political. This outlook is a self-serving double standard.

  175. Really_surprised Says:

    There are various people asking for feminists commenting here to reject Marcotte’s article. I certainly will. Her tone is obnoxious and click-baity, and I couldn’t read past a certain point.

    It is true the vision of feminism in the original comment 171 and echoed by others here is bizarrely distorted. Dworkin is not mainstream and never has been.

    Everyone has to outgrow their sexual anxieties. The idea that some fringe thinking (which I would not call feminist at all) and sexual harassment prevention workshops cause them I doubt. What suddenly makes intelligent readers and listeners into brainwashed victims? And STEM people are supposed to be good at critical thinking and information gathering. That’s what our training and work are all about. Without deep phobias distorting someone’s vision, it’s hard to see how this would happen.

    And of course many women and feminists care about men and some problems predominantly faced by them. I certainly do.

  176. JYS Says:

    PB #173.

    Have you considered that social isolation *is* gendered? That is to say, that, by virtue of their gender, men (nerdy or otherwise) are more likely to be socially isolated, less likely to experience platonic touch, and have more difficulty accessing safe spaces where they may vent and process emotionally?

    Further, have you considered the possibility that it isn’t only patriarchy that contributes to this. Some of feminism’s success has had negative downstream consequences for male intimacy. Witness the decline of fraternal organizations, fraternities, male only education, and the replacement of previously exclusively male organizations with co-ed versions of the same. To be clear, some of these things *needed* to happen for reasons of justice and fairness, however this transition has exacerbated existing structural barriers to male intimacy. One can be for eliminating the injustices born by women while cognizant of the side effects on other parties. Granting these side effects is not a concession that they aren’t necessary, but an honest assessment of other societal problems which reasonable, empathic people ought to engage with.

    And these problems are not trivial. Men are more likely to die (and die violently) at every stage of life. Men are overwhelmingly more likely to die of suicide. Boys grades are worse relative to standardized test scores, particularly during early school years. This is at least partially explained by differences in class room behavior. To the extent that it is easier to empathize with those similar to oneself, it is tempting to conclude that the predominant (female) gender of elementary school teachers contributes to this. (This is speculation on my part — as far as I know, no data exist whether instructor’s gender affects grades in a gender specific manner .)

  177. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    Amy #172,

    I think that’s due to most of the commentators on the last thread being regulars to Scott’s blog. Whereas the proportion in this thread has a lot more non-regulars.

  178. Devos Kerry Says:

    Dear Chelsey,
    Thanks for bringing more perspective and depth to the discussion. I’m just beginning to fathom the cardinal and deep connections between sexual harassment laws and the torment of the Palestinian people under the oppressive rule of international white Jewry. It is a perspective that eluded me so far. Please do continue to enlighten us with your insights!

  179. das monde Says:

    Like or not, humans are social-hierarchical species. With prefrontal cortex relaxed, we are innately looking for social positioning, leverage, inspiration one way or other. After many nerdy years, I can pinpoint a few definite problems that nerds generally have. Let me be forthright.

    Firstly, nerds can live on for years ignorant of the social “games” – missing experiences and opportunities, in unaware submission to social ergodics, verbal bluffs, subtle or rough pushes.

    Secondly, the intellect and special skills put a nerd in a pretty alpha position – but he typically has little clue how to keep that position with congruence. People just do not see a “complete package” – and start socially treating him like a fraud. Recognized alphas do not just represent privilege (which can indeed be disproportionally rewarding), but certain social responsibility, leadership.

    Thirdly, when it comes to sex, logical skills help nothing but stand in the way, really. The advice of “getting out of your head and leave it to nature” will not be new to many nerds. But for them, there is a subtle difference between staying “in your head” and being aware, observant, present. You don’t have to loose your head completely!

    As for nerd sex differences, they definitely exist regardless of equivalence implications of Laurie Penny. A male nerd without social skills is basically out of dating game, while a female is rather frustrated by lack of adequate attention.

    There is always more to learn socially – including for me at this stage, certainly. Check the URL link I give for more thoughts.

  180. Nyme Says:

    “Dworkin is not mainstream and never has been.”

    Maybe. But Marcotte is and she’s barely better.

  181. Chelsey Says:

    @Distribution I don’t think that’s exactly what’s going on here. When I am speaking of structural violence or systemic oppression I am talking about things that constrain the material conditions of peoples’ lives (some use the terminology of ‘privilege’ to denote the ways a person’s life is not constrained by those systems on a certain dimension or multiple ones). Whether that is being denied access to education, income, citizenship, due process, land/business/property ownership, political representation, housing, medical care including reproductive health care, and so on, and not being subject to violence, arbitrary police repression surveillance and imprisonment, etc.. As I’m reading this it is seeming like some are trying to say that shy male nerds are being oppressed (not just personally but structurally, culturally, systematically) because they have a terrible time understanding how to have romantic relationships and how to interpret consent messages and so on from feminists. I suppose there’s an argument to be made that the serious mental health issues caused by the strident rhetoric of some feminists causes shy male nerds to have to drop out of school, spend money on recovery, and lose confidence to move up in the workplace, and thus shy male nerds are systematically disadvantaged. But I think this is a pretty far out argument. I’m just saying we kind of need to get on the same page about what oppression is. Being made to feel miserable isn’t the same as being deported or forced into poverty by structures and systems that were set up and are maintained in order to do that to certain groups of people. I think most feminists DO care about bad things happening to men. I personally have spoken out on the issue of men being sexually assaulted and the cultural difficulties that make it uniquely difficult for men to report or seek support.

    I’m really not seeing how the problems and difficulties of shy male nerds is an issue of oppression (as I understand it). What I have learned here is that it is an issue worth addressing.

  182. Russell Says:

    Happy New Year and all the best from the ~99% of people who read blog posts but don’t comment normally.
    A needed and thoughtful discussion.

  183. Physics Dude Says:

    Vijay D’Silva

    Yes, I was objecting not so much to the existence of the patriarchy, but on what Chelsea seems to have betrayed as the motivation for her belief in the patriarchy. From her statement, her belief in the patriarchy seems to be motivated more by political exigency than empirical validity:

    “It’s a tricky concept but it is one that I hold on to because it allows us to assert that there is indeed a system of male domination over women that exists and that we need to ‘smash’ or whatever.”

  184. pb Says:

    Further reflection provided me with something additional to say about the topic of shy-male-nerd sexuality and why improving it is not diametrically opposed to helping women in STEM:

    Over the past few days my cousin and I have been discussing the issues faced by women in STEM; she recently declared her undergraduate major to be CS (and math). She pointed out that plenty of people are telling her they really want women to join CS, but when women enter a CS classroom, the men don’t know how to talk to women, which is an entirely un-welcoming environment. So yes, please (!) do educate young men in such a way that they know how to have mutually healthy interactions with women. While we’re at it, we can also teach the young women about healthy interactions with men. I don’t see any losing conditions here – boys won’t have crippling relationship anxiety and can learn to be better allies, girls will hopefully not have crippling relationships and will feel welcome as growing minorities in their fields, and all goals will be advanced.

  185. Physics Dude Says:


    I wholeheartedly agree with your comment. I don’t see how racism can be considered institutionalized and structural (that too in the form of “white supremacy”), but the treatment of shy nerdy males we’re talking about cannot be similarly considered institutionalized and structural.

    However, let’s give Chelsea’s ideas their due consideration. Suppose we start to base our decisions on her definition of power:

    “The feminism I practice understands this as not having access to, particularly, economic and political power in the same way that other groups do.

    “Is my group (shy male nerdiness) being systematically prevented from becoming a manager or CEO?”

    “Am I being systematically prevented from becoming a politician, or President?”

    “Am I being systematically prevented from becoming a tenured professor at a top university?”

    “Is my being a shy male nerd the thing that is keeping me from being rich?”

    “Is my groups access to the above things constrained by things like ideology, threat of violence and social sanction, imprisonment, and so on?””

    Now clearly Chelsea will contend that the widely disproportionate representation of males in the highest positions of power is due to institutionalized patriarchy. Likewise, the strong overrepresentation of whites in these highest positions is due to institutionalized white supremacy. But as a physics major, I have an eye for details, and I think that on the issue of race we’re being too broad in lumping everyone under the designation “white”. A more careful analysis will make it clear that it is not whites in general who have institutionalized power, but specifically Jews (http://articles.latimes.com/2008/dec/19/opinion/oe-stein19). Clearly, what we have is not a white supremacy, but a Jewish supremacy. Smash the Jewish supremacy!

  186. Physics Dude Says:

    Chelsea #181

    So would you argue that gays are not oppressed (at least in states with marriage equality)? That seems to be the logical result of your definition of oppression.

  187. Physics Dude Says:

    Err those should read Chelsey, not Chelsea. My apologies for the misspellings.

  188. Chelsey Says:

    @PhysicsDude I’m not sure why you’re harping on a single poorly worded statement. That last part was a silly nod to Scott’s own update to the post we are commenting on where he says that patriarchy is a meaningless term and then facetiously states ‘Smash the Patriarchy’
    ‘ I’ve also asserted that I agree the concept of patriarchy is undertheorized and lacks empirical evidence. That does not mean that women do not notice the realities of our lives, just that perhaps we haven’t had the time or longevity in academia to definitively prove that there exists a system of male domination in our society (however that would be done, and I’m not sure that it should have to be). I still assert that it is a useful concept , and I say this not because I’m fanatical or because of political exigency, but because it fits with the reality I and many other women see and experience in our daily lives (not in the sense of ‘men are being big meanies to me personally’, but in a structural violence sense. Sometimes I lament the dominant focus on things like ‘rape culture’ because I think it causes people to misunderstand the heart of feminism).. It is often a relief to women to discover feminism because it puts language to our suffering, and I think sometimes people go a little overboard with that and lash out at individual men rather than focusing on systemic issues, how history has shaped our present reality in ways that are gendered, and what we can do to improve things. I’ve been guilty of this in the past and even in the past few days out of sheer frustration and impatience and dealing with aftereffects of multiple instances of harassment and violence. Aspects of feminist thought are distorted and I’ve spent plenty of time critiquing that as well, e.g what I see as an overremphasis on the personal and cultural problems of white women. While my comment was worded poorly, the main thrust is that I think it is important as a theoretical concept and is useful to forming a social change narrative that focuses on systems and not on blaming individual men.

    @Devos. I’m always happy to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinian people. The feminism I try to practice centres the experiences of the most oppressed. I know you’re trying to hurt my feelings but I don’t really care.

  189. Chelsey Says:

    It strikes me as a bit ironic that I have personally suffered through sexual assault multiple times, harassment in my male engineer dominated workplace, and backlash for publicly asserting feminist ideas, to the point I developed post traumatic stress and had to leave my job and career, was unable to work for a year and a half, and have amassed about $60,000 in lost wages and medical costs. The organization I worked for denied I’d been harassed at all. Up to very recently I couldn’t have participated in this discussion at all, particularly with some of the comments being made towards me. Even so, I try not to let my personal experiences and hardships colour my politics or my ability to tease out which parts of my experience were more personal and which were part of more structural issues, and how my experience may have been different or compounded if I were a black woman or indigenous woman or queer woman. But I admit it is a very tricky thing to do, when I personally am suffering greatly.

    Glad for the mostly civilized discussion. I’ve learned a lot. Signing off. happy new year to all.

  190. Darrell Burgan Says:

    I have come to realize that I sincerely do not understand the word “feminism”. I thought I did, but from reading the discussions here I realize I don’t. I thought it was simply about supporting the rights of women to the same freedoms, rights, and privileges that anyone else has, something I do unreservedly. But now I think it is clear there is a whole lot more to it than that, and I certainly have much to learn.

    As a male, I cannot possibly understand what it means to be a woman, but I can show compassion, empathize to the best of my abilities, and listen to what is being said. I may not always get it, but it is not for lack of trying.

  191. mark Says:

    pb #184
    I found Scott’s blog because Laurie Penny’s article got tweeted to my feed.

    As one of the shy-nerdy-males that identifies with Aaron’s position (I’m of similar age, but not white), this is the sort of thing that makes me sympathise with Scott’s position. I’ve been saying for a while, that a pragmatic step to the unwelcoming STEM environment is that shy-nerdy-males should be taught what to do. We’re not blind to our behaviour and most of us would probably welcome some guidance.

    Which is why years ago, I did what came naturally to me. Research the problem and try and find solutions. I inevitably come across feminist writing on the internet (I have not read anything on paper for a long time) and my experience with feminist writing has been similarly negative as Scott’s.

    Now no one owes shy-nerdy-guys anything and my feelings may simply extend from whatever psychological issues I have. On the balance I can logically see that I have it easier than the majority of the population, even if I’ve thought about suicide. But I think our position on feminism is quite reasonable. After Scott revealed on his blog some very personal details of his life, the articles in response only try to diminish his experience (I have a less favourable view on Laurie’s piece).

    I think pd’s comment (#184) has been the first to even mention solutions *sigh*

  192. Chelsey Says:

    Ps- @Scott, wondering if you’d be interested in a direct conversation sometime about what it is like from the point of view of a female in STEM field who has faced harassment to the point of psychological injury from genuinely well intentioned, feminist, liberal engineers (many being shy nerds who faced much bullying growing up). Perhaps you could offer me some insight on how it might come to be that this was a recurring issue for me and others, that when I gathered the courage to report it the executive rushed to defend the perpetrator (and promote him and give him a raise), and then congratulate each other publicly on their humanitarianism (medals at the white house?). I would like to see if you have ideas on how feminists or anyone really could intervene in such a situation or act to prevent it, without causing crippling anxiety and shame to my former colleagues. I actually do care about this, to the point that I did not publicly report this person in order to protect his health and reputation. I’m pretty sure he didnt actively intend to ruin my life; he just made some really big mistakes , he didn’t know the rules, he didnt have very good handle on his own emotional and mental health. And then the guys in charge (yep all white guys) had no idea how to handle the situation or their own internalized sexism that reflexively painted me as a liar while seemingly regarding that man’s career as more important than my very life. When i heard about MIT actually taking this issue seriously I was honestly flabbergasted.
    Anyways, I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts. I’d prefer not to do that publicly because it can be quite traumatic to have a bunch of strangers scrutinize (and likely deny) details of your harassment.

  193. Scott Says:

    Chelsey #192: Sure, go ahead and email me. I’m sorry about what you experienced.

  194. Hunt Says:

    Scott#96: Anon. #94: She isn’t, and that’s a problem.

    The extraordinary thing is that Marcotte won’t be challenged by any prominent feminist journalist or writer, either out of solidarity or fear of crossing into an outgroup. Marcotte asks in another article whether 2015 will be as good a year for feminism as 2014. Well, I hope 2015 will address what I consider a problem. On the one hand, feminism purports to the “the radical notion that women are human beings” and the simple notion of gender equality. That’s the easily defensible motte, a no-brainer that we all intuitively agree to. On the other hand, feminism is the discipline under which a writer like Marcotte can create travesties like her article. That’s the bailey. (If people don’t know what I’m talking about, look up “motte-bailey doctrine.”) Note that there is no very effective way to respond to Marcotte’s attack. If you respond in kind, you’re a misogynist. If you don’t respond at all, she wins by default because, again, nobody will dare challenge her, and by “nobody” I mean no well-known feminist. Of course, this is all very calculated, and one might argue that it has a certain amount of virtue since outrage and controversy tends to draw attention to problem areas. But it’s doing more than that, and what it’s doing is making the general public hate the word “feminism.” By and large, Americans, at least, dislike “feminism” in large majority, while at the same time favoring the nominal objectives that feminism asserts (the motte, that is). And that really is a problem.

  195. wolfgang Says:


    >> my problems weren’t caused by feminism, but rather by the Patriarchy

    But if The Patriarchy (whatever it is exactly) is such an overwhelming force, should we not suspect that it also influences feminism (whatever it is exactly) negatively?

    As for more practical issues: Would it not be an interesting CS project to develop a protocol (and real application) that allows shy nerds to date without initially revealing their identity?

  196. British male nerd Says:

    Yet another thank you to Scott, from someone for whom comment 171 sounded all too familiar (and who has successfully emerged from the other side, doubtless thanks in no small part due to social privilege).

    I distinctly remember that feeling of wishing to be an asexual being, rather than one encumbered with sexual desires which served no purpose than to make me miserable and distract me from the pursuit of science.

    Except… my experience was subtly different from Scott’s in ways which might be interesting enough to make a longer comment worthwhile.

    I don’t remember that my misery was particularly compounded by feminist dogma, anti-sex-assault classes, etc.. Those classes just struck me as laughably irrelevant to my life. Nor did I scour feminist literature for solutions.

    I felt that same paralysis: making any sexual or romantic approach to a girl would expose me as a creep, would open me to ridicule, and would just plain be bad manners.

    Rather than radical feminism, a bigger factor in my own case was old-fashioned British emotional constipation: we do not talk about our feelings, and particularly not our sexual desires. (The traditional course of action is to bottle them up for years until hanging ourselves in an auto-erotic asphyxiation-related mishap.)

    I suppose the moral is that, while different social contexts and ideologies may frame the problem in different ways and complicate or worsen it according to their own peculiarities, at root it is something fairly simple: terror of rejection.

  197. Katie Says:

    I didn’t have time to read all the comments since my last one… but I’d say that unless someone has lived it, no one understand what complete social isolation feels like unless they have lived it and how permanently damaging it is. I think that’s what Scott is unable to convey. Complete. Social. Isolation.

    Would he honestly rather be a black kid with a group of friends in the USA than a kid who was completely socially isolated? I can certainly see that.

    Humans are social animals and the way geeks Of A Certain Age (TM) were treated is absolutely cruel. And at the time, we had no idea the things we loved would ever be an asset. You don’t grow out of that. You try every day to survive that. Yeah, even once you’re out of school. For the rest of your life.

    I homeschool my kids. They can choose who to be around or what to do and never, ever, ever feel that way.

  198. Physics Dude Says:


    “I’ve also asserted that I agree the concept of patriarchy is undertheorized and lacks empirical evidence. That does not mean that women do not notice the realities of our lives, just that perhaps we haven’t had the time or longevity in academia to definitively prove that there exists a system of male domination in our society (however that would be done, and I’m not sure that it should have to be).”

    See this attitude struck me as rather unscientific and more religious. But I think I get your point in the following:

    “I still assert that it is a useful concept , and I say this not because I’m fanatical or because of political exigency, but because it fits with the reality I and many other women see and experience in our daily lives (not in the sense of ‘men are being big meanies to me personally’, but in a structural violence sense. Sometimes I lament the dominant focus on things like ‘rape culture’ because I think it causes people to misunderstand the heart of feminism).. It is often a relief to women to discover feminism because it puts language to our suffering, and I think sometimes people go a little overboard with that and lash out at individual men rather than focusing on systemic issues, how history has shaped our present reality in ways that are gendered, and what we can do to improve things.”

    That’s fair. But then why do you turn around and deny shy nerdy males the right to similarly label the reality they experience in their daily lives? Frankly, this reeks of a double standard.

  199. Devos Kerry Says:

    Re Chelsey comments, you can see why some people are more than suspicious about the true motives behind “structural” feminists. If you start bundling together Mideast politics, post-colonial theories, and a true and practical aspiration for a fair work environment, while ending up defending one of the most outrages chauvinistic, misogynistic, patriarchal, and gay oppressive societies currently on earth – then of course one starts to doubt what’s really behind all this.

  200. Muga Sofer Says:

    “British male nerd” #196:

    Huh, I’m Irish and I had much he same experiences (i.e. anxiety but unrelated to feminism.)

    Not many datapoints, so I’m extrapolating wildly, but is this a US/UK difference?

  201. Quasi-Bad Guy Says:

    You know, I used to think like you. Thing is, I’ve realized, doing good and doing well often don’t coincide. You can often do the right thing, or you can do what’s good for you.

    So I studied the black arts of PUA/game (doing my best to ignore the bizarre racism and anti-Semitism floating around the manosphere…really, guys, what does that have to do with anything?), and am gradually seeing an improvement in my dating life. I took the feminist beliefs I was raised with and inverted them–made decisions for the other person; asked out without fear of hurting the other person’s feelings; responded to rejection with, ‘NEXT!’; started teasing; simultaneously dated two women without telling either; and so on. Basically, I’ve decided I’m no longer afraid of being a jerk, though I will never commit true crimes such as rape, etc. (I actually have a rule of never having sex after the other person has boozed, to ensure consent is unalloyed)–I’m not a psychopath.

    I think most of the ‘redpill’ blogs are just as wrong as the feminist blogs, albeit in the opposite direction. They’re useful as counterprogramming–read Amanda Marcotte and Chateau Heartiste and take the average, and you’re not too far from the truth.

    I still don’t have the free time to be a real player, but tossing out the ideals I grew up with finally let me have a life. In the end, we live in a dark world these days, and nice guys finish last. This is not only true in the romantic arena, either–look at all the awful businessmen who destroy the environment, oppress their workers, and then pay congressmen to let them keep doing it. But, in the end, they win. The nice guys who try to make a livable society for everyone and try to do the right thing just get steamrolled.

    In the grim darkness of the 21st century, there is only war.

  202. pb Says:

    mark #191

    To clarify: I think feminism (or at least feminists) had the greater part of the role in framing this as sexuality vs feminism. They certainly unnecessarily perpetuated the broader discussion as “us vs. Scott”. But, luckily, an ideology like feminism is fluid and restructures when feminists think differently – as a feminist, I think differently, and reject the notion that it would be detrimental to women to help (in this case nerdy) men out with their sexuality. Hopefully others join me on this, and then ultimately feminism won’t be on the other side of this very real problem.

    British male nerd #196

    You hit on two very key points! One point being the problem with emotional constipation – our still-Puritanical society is terrible at this too, and we make it even worse on boys, since we expect them to be even more emotionally constipated than women. The other point is the terror of rejection component – I think nerds of all varieties are particularly at risk for this deep fear for a number of reasons, including being particularly accustomed to succeeding and driven by a desire to avoid failure, and being more prone to having empirical and literal mindsets that aren’t in tune to the reality that romantic relationships, particularly on start-up, are not linear and often make no sense. The success/fear-of-failure issue could at least partially be dealt with through education reform (in reality, success in learning and in life comes from embracing failure, and our education system should reflect this more) but cluing nerds into the reality of messy relationships would probably have to be its own direct effort.

  203. Rob Alexander Says:


    Heartfelt thanks for posting this, and in particular for the original Comment #171. I’ve been lucky enough to have most of the past three days free to devote to reading your posts, your followon comments, external responses to them, and the countless comments on all of those. The quality of the discussion, at least the best of it, has been fantastic. Reading it all has been a wonderful learning journey for me. Your description of the younger you resonated with me on a deep level, even though I had it much easier in many ways.

    I think you are wrong about several things, including what I think is your key contention — that “‘the problem of the nerdy heterosexual male’ is surely one of the worst social problems today that you can’t even acknowledge as being a problem”. Much of your misunderstanding seems to stem from a lack of empathy on many fronts, in particular for how much suffering is typically experienced by others disadvantaged by being the “wrong” race, sex or class (holding mental health and resilience fixed, in contrast to your statements about “wanting to swap places”). Much of your adolescent experience sounds like it was as much a symptom of moderate mental illness (social anxiety disorder) as its cause. Such disorders are studied a great deal (although I don’t know how much the specific issues of young men are).

    At the same time, the issue you identify is a real one – socially anxious, socially untalented young men are still treated brutally in many quarters, and they receive little sympathy from many quarters that are otherwise egalitarian and concerned. Amanda Marcott’s spiteful, shaming article is a good example of this (a good example of your “inadvertently helped make my argument for me”). Similarly, the Red Pill subculture and the viscious shysters that populate it illustrate the traps out there for them that harm all concerned. “Shy male nerds” deserve better from our society; “shy female nerds” deserve better too, but addressing both those groups will require specific attention to their individual problems. You are doing good work for the males here.

    Please continue to post in this vein, for many, many future posts. I am confident that you are wrong about several things; I suspect that you will come to understand this, then go beyond to build on that. The adolescent-Scott-Aaronson’s of the present and future need you!

  204. Rob Alexander Says:

    “British male nerd” 196 – as a fellow Brit, your comments resonates with me, too.

  205. pb Says:

    das monde #179

    The concept that women are looking for alphas is completely out of touch with the reality of our evolved sociological structure. We are not packs of dogs; hunter-gatherer societies do not have alpha leaders. Humans are largely egalitarian in our “natural” state and leaders, both male and female, emerge in individual areas because of expertise in that particular area. Both genders therefore should find success in general to be an attractive trait in a mate, since success conferred not only good genetic fitness for survival but also improved social status within the group.

    This misconception about alpha males is the essence of the Patriarchy if there ever is one – it perpetuates the idea that success as a woman is not only not desirable but that it is actually undesirable, because it somehow detracts from the success of the partner. It also leads to the enforcement of ridiculous and artificial rules about social status, where male nerds aren’t given their due as being successful in a particular area because they don’t present as, say, physically dominant, and where women are actively prevented from being seen as leaders (or being leaders) because they aren’t male and therefore couldn’t be alpha.

  206. Karmakin Says:

    Thank you very much for the communication on this. I’m one of “us”. In my entire life, I’ve never even initiated any sort of romantic/sexual contact. I’m happily married, but that’s because my wife made the first move(s) (plural in reality because there’s multiple in a relationship.

    I actually think Chelsey in #171 gets it right in terms of the nature of the problem, but I think is missing the next step, and unfortunately is indicative of a much larger problem that not only hampers people of a certain personality type, but I really do think hampers actual progress towards making the lives of women better.

    It really is about complicity. Speaking for myself, but in my experience most people who have this probably generally have similar issues. At least I see them whenever they come up. We understand our (potential) complicity. We take that complicity seriously, and we take steps to not do those things. We do not want to hurt women. Period. We understand that doing these things may hurt women, which is an awful terrible thing so we do not do it.

    The “third way” mentioned, is basically to raise the right flag, to genuflect at the right tribal statue…then forget all about one’s complicity. And I…we can’t do that. That’s difficult. Just because you make the right tribal signifiers doesn’t mean that the actual problem…in this case women feeling very uncomfortable because undesirable men express romantic/sexual interest…goes away. It’s still there.

    To put it bluntly, the “third way” is how you get the Hugo Schwyzers of the world. Not something I think is very healthy. And that’s a relatively “safe” famous example. I’m sure people can think of plenty others.

    So how do I try to work past it? (It’s an on-going issue for me). Women are not a monolith. Different women want different things and have different standards. Try and be as polite as respectful as you can, and do the best. That’s all you can do.

    It started to be fixed which I switched over from Collectivist Feminism (I.E. Men are X. Women are Y) to a Individualist Feminism with a tinge of queer theory. (We’re all individuals on a multitude of gender spectrums in terms of individual traits from male to female. I may be more male in some aspects but more female in others). But, the hyper-responsibility remains. That’s something that’s deeper.

    Anyway, the point is that sort of collectivist feminism which talks about absolutes but in reality it’s with a wink and a nod that we’re not actually supposed to think about it in absolutes that’s the problem. It’s horrifically toxic for people that can’t help but take people at their word about this sort of stuff.

    That’s just my feeling/experience, both personal and talking/reading about others on this subject.

  207. Rob Alexander Says:

    Quasi-Bad Guy 201 – “The nice guys who try to make a livable society for everyone and try to do the right thing just get steamrolled.”

    No. The world is far from perfect, but better than it has ever been. Progress on every social justice front during the 20th century has been fantastic, and the rate of violent death, in particular, has fallen a long way.

    (Pinker’s “Better Angels of Our Nature” is good reading here)

    In any case, I’m not playing to win, if winning means zero-sum success for myself at the cost of others. There is no value in that. If I do considerable good for others, but am myself “steamrollered” and am reduced to very low status (and/or to an early grave) – that’s an ok result in my book.

  208. pb Says:

    JYS #176

    I just now saw your comment. The questions you ask and issues you raise are a bit off the mark for my comment #173. The essence of what I’m saying is that the gendered (and sometimes ethnic) exclusion of individuals from STEM is a separate problem from the sexuality problems of male nerds (or males in general, or nerds in general). The latter may have a role in the former, but they shouldn’t be equated; we also shouldn’t overlook the fact that helping the latter would almost definitely help the former. I know from my own experience that the “silent technical privilege” enjoyed by males in my field is largely not caused by males in my field, but by preconceptions held by males and females alike in society as a whole. Dismantling the network of habits that society has where we provide a little less support to women and minorities in technology and a little more derision to them has pretty much nothing to do with preventing sexual harassment. In the broader society, options for women would improve if we could eliminate sexual harassment, but even on this topic, I’m of the view that few males out there have an inherent desire to subjugate and insult women; better relationship advice and information for young males would improve the situation and not make it worse.

    I have heard of and am concerned about many of the specific issues you raise related to problems faced by men and boys. Our society needs to stop obsessing about this blame game and get its collective act together to look for real solutions to these problems. I think Scott very publicly and usefully stumbled through an evolution of thought on this general subject that will be beneficial to the community at large.

  209. Gil Kalai Says:

    I agree with the British male nerd that the anxiety regarding sex and romance can have various individual framings for different people. (British education, religious education…) and that these framing are not the source of the problem. The feminism framing seems to be quite unique to Scott. So with so many people who reported similar experience as Scott, was there anybody else who blamed the feminist beside Scott? Did anybody else read feminist writings as a teenage? (And still the previous thread included a notable volume of anti-feminist comments. How come?)

    Ok, so blaming the feminism part was very specific and unique to Scott’s case. But Is Scott’s problem a specific nerd problem? Probably not. But why do we see so many self-proclaimed nerds identifying with Scott here? Because this blog attracts nerds. And how do I know that also non-nerds face the very same problems? Mainly from the army. Unfortunately we have a mandatory army-service, but a positive side of this otherwise misfortune is that you meet many people very different from you and you realize that social anxiety and the difficulty of young men regarding relations, intimacy and sex is quite general. Being academically bright does not make it harder. There can be some special aspects which are related to nerds, but the primary thing to remember is that social anxiety is a universal problem for many young people.

    When people draw “lessons” from their own experiences thus based on a single case they can be wrong. Getting over the “Amys of the world” as Scott put it, and realizing that being “respectful of women doesn’t mean bowing to their every wish” as Mike said may not be as meaningful as Scott and Mike think.

    What is the reason that things finally got better? (Of course, for some people they don’t get better.) It is possible that this can be seen as a stochastic process where you eventually succeed to move on; It is possible that for teenagers, both men and women are largely attracted to people close to some collective “ideal,” and tastes diversify and become more individual and subtle later on. The specific setting can be crucial like the nature of your school, campus, and city. A single friend can make a big different. Being bright can help and some nerdy properties can have different effects at different ages and settings.

  210. Amy Says:

    Addressing this mostly to Physics Dude, but also more generally:

    This conversation strikes me as one of the best arguments I’ve seen for the Well-Rounded Liberal-Arts Education.

    What I’m seeing repeatedly, I think, is significant trouble in noticing the difference between structural and personal (and why, ultimately for this set of conversations, it’s important in STEM). That’s not meant as a slap; it’s a legitimately non-obvious thing. But I’ll step back a moment from that to address Scott’s update. I’ll also preface this by saying that I’m not by any means a gender-studies scholar and am wandering willy-nilly here on other people’s turf, so corrections and clarifications are welcome.

    Upthread I was talking about feminism’s interests in men’s problems because of their inseparability from women’s problems. Talking in that vein — men’s problems, women’s problems — is a bit silly because they’re all part of the same set of social rules; apart from a limited set of physical concerns, they can’t be anything but. Some larger social conception lays out “men have problems like this” and “women have problems like that”, and that we’re going to divvy up problems and for that matter identities by gender in the first place. (Which, when I was younger, always struck me as weird and irritating, all the insistence on gendering.)

    This larger social conception carries the label “patriarchal” because that has in fact been the social organization that got us to this moment. (I just saw a guy on twitter call it a “fucked-up legacy codebase”.) Men running the show, men for that matter defining the show, and defining it along gender lines, not without pushback and negotiation from women, but still very much in control, the last word. I had much opportunity to see that in stark forms throughout my childhood: there was no question who was not only in charge but making the rules in almost every public arena. And, crucially, the power to change those rules resided in men’s hands — in law, in religion, in education, in medicine, in professions, in matters of sex and marriage, in anything to do with money. These are matters of fact and, for many of us, of memory. Within my lifetime, women gained the right to control our own fertility, to divorce for any reason or none, to borrow money without a husband’s permission (if married), to demand equal opportunities in education, including sport. I’m sure there are others I’m missing off the top of my head. We gained the right the right to be considered equally for employment only a few years before my birth. My undergraduate university started admitting women. But in every instance it required men to fight with other men and to grant those rights, because men were the ones making the decisions. That’s civil society; I could make a similar list in religious life. Frankly, even when the rules changed, they changed on men’s terms. Yes, I was allowed, even welcomed, into professions. But I was a young, unmarried, attractive woman — and smart! How fun! Why not? Where else were these guys supposed to meet a wife? Don’t believe for a minute that 40-year-old moms drew the same welcome. 60-year-old women still didn’t exist. And no, older women were not in general welcomed, open arms, into higher ed for retraining for careers. They were still taking up a young person’s place.

    So it is not that there’s some sort of social-sciences religious cult that sees some ghostly “terrism” equivalent out there as responsible for all evil and inequity; it’s just a descriptor, overbroad as is usual in soc sci, for the social structures in which we live. Because even though those new legal rights have changed quite a bit about how we live, they’ve certainly not changed everything, and it’s been a continuous and arduous fight to establish and keep those rights. I’ve spent a considerable part of my own life at it, meaning I have not spent that time on other things I might find more personally satisfying or enriching. (The best efforts so far at positing some other reason for why the social structures are what they are amount to “God told us to” and a small heap of evolutionary pseudoscience. The social scientists and historians have still got the best explanations going.)

    When someone like Laurie Penny describes Scott’s suffering as essentially patriarchal, she is not, again, speaking in cult terms. She’s referring to a social construct in which a young man is expected to go get him, as the song goes, a pretty little wife, and begin his life as an adult in this manner. And in which a young man who is not out there merrily fucking away is not only graded and ranked severely by others, but does it to himself. Also in which a shy and nerdy boy comes in for substantial abuse at the hands of other boys for the crime of not being masculine in the prescribed way. I’m sure everyone reading this either knew or was a smart boy who saw the writing on the wall early, got good at sports, and passed that way.

    Feminism’s successes have lead to an interesting, and difficult, imbalance. Women have fought free, in some places, of the requirement to be narrowly “feminine”. I am free, 43 years after the passage of Title IX, from any constraint to be “ladylike”. I don’t go in lady drag; I don’t spend time/money/energy on a battery of foundational undergarments or “putting on my face”. I am an openly single working mother, property-owning, with career, and my kid isn’t shunned, nor am I scolded locally about “being selfish” for not remarrying. I am not scolded for taking a job away from a man. (Not that most men would want my job, it doesn’t pay well.) I’m free to marry a woman. My daughter can be athletic without being sorted as a “tomboy” with fears for her future marriageability. She’s entirely unworried about her future marriageability and does not see marriage as predestined. I should note that these fights were not just with men. The fights were, and continue to be (though not nearly to the same extent as they were) with women. We’re very far away from the time of shock horror from other women if you went around without pantyhose, or ostracization if you had a lot of sex with multiple partners (or were, god help you, gay or divorced), but those days were very real: you were betraying other women by behaving that way. That mentality is gone from mainstream thought, more or less.

    I don’t think, though, that similar freedoms have come for men. That’s not women’s fault, though there’s a good deal of insisting from certain men online that women want only some sort of thuggy VC sugar daddy, and that women therefore are forcing men to be this way. Going outside where other people are is about all the rebuttal this argument needs. The main problem, I think, is that men have not done the work with each other, and have not duked it out amongst themselves about who may be called a man, and whether it matters in the first place. So yes, defining men’s value by ability to score a girlfriend; athletic ability and build (which actually turns out not to be the only athletic build anyway); frat-worthiness; position in a career hierarchy; “leadership” qualities; income…it’s destructive in ways we know plenty about, and the definitions come from the same view of the world that’ve given women so much trouble whenever we tried to buck it.

    I have a tough time imagining that anyone but men can solve that problem. Sure, women can be supportive. ACT UP did extraordinary work along those lines in the 80s and 90s, and it’s still going on, because the fight’s still going on. The violence that used to be reserved for gay men is now being aimed at trans girls and their parents. I appreciate that it’s difficult. But I would also appreciate it if those doing it didn’t decide that it was more convenient to blame feminism for the unhappiness.

    Finally, a return to Dworkin. A guest last night, card-carrying feminist who can go on for days about sexism, told a story about having met Dworkin as a student, and having gone to a talk she gave. She described Dworkin as frightening, mean, and batshit, someone who enjoyed beating up men. Apparently Dworkin refused at first to allow men into the talk, then relented but made all the men stand in the back. My friend described a moment when her friend, who’d brought her boyfriend, put her arm around her boyfriend’s shoulder, because what Dworkin was saying shook him so. Scott, there’s been plenty said already about how having gone to what you perceived as the logical endpoint here wasn’t actually all that bright, though I can see it made more sense in the context of the time. (I also can’t stop thinking about the opening scene in Annie Hall.) But I think what your story underscores is that the need for open conversation is serious. If someone had come along when you were 16, seen you lining up for a beating from Dworkin, and thought “oy vey” and said, “Put that down, that’s not what this is about, here, come with me,” in some credible fashion, it might’ve saved you a lot of unhappiness. One thing that I don’t think it could’ve saved you: the tentativeness about the world, the ability to imagine myriad ways of getting it wrong, the mismeasure of the consequences. That’s just part of youth if you’re a certain kind of bright kid; you can’t know what you don’t know yet, you can’t be more experienced than you are. But knowing that that agony passes, too, can be helpful.

    Oh. Never did get to structural v. personal. Another comment.

  211. Janet Says:

    dad monde #179: I was not frustrated by inadequate attention. I was frustrated by being called Fido and having guys bark at me. This happened regularly for about three years when I was on my early teens, and it continued sporadically after that. When I was a senior in high school, there were still a few guys calling me Fido. Maybe they thought it was an affectionate nickname. And yes, some of the guys who picked on me were nerds, and plenty adults saw it happening and did nothing.

  212. An MIT SNM Says:

    Scott, I love your work, so I’m really, really happy to hear you won’t be talking more about this anytime soon.

    Though people at MIT are more analytical than most, many more of us read Marcotte than Shtetl Optimized. There are likely at least two hundred undergrads here that read her terrible article and believed it completely. In the best case, you’ll just have slightly less students in 6.045 next semester. In the worst case, some kind of campaign will coalesce and people will barrage Reif with requests to fire you.

    And I really don’t want this to happen! Not just because I want to take 6.845 someday, but because it would be a hit for human knowledge. In the grand scheme of things, your research work is more important than anything you or Marcotte could ever say about feminism. If zealots manage to get you fired, that means we live in a world where agreeing with the zealots is more important than anything else — more than art, literature, or science. And that’s a really sad picture.

    (Actually, this is probably a good time for me to go download your lecture notes from OCW, in case they get scrubbed off like Lewin’s.)

    For examples of this kind of witchhunt, have a look at gettingracistsfired.com/ For example, the top post, which over a thousand people have reblogged by now, is about trying to get a truck driver fired for saying “Damn, beautiful!” to a passing girl. Other people are being hunted for buying a t-shirt or reblogging a pro-police webcomic. You fit the bill for their next target perfectly.

    Please, watch out. At least, last another two years so I can take 6.845! 😛

  213. Lancelot Gobbo Says:

    Keep your chin up—while it seems you have been chosen to be ‘witch of the week’ your original post and your very honest comment are appreciated by many. Thanks also to dorothy and Amy for their comments on that original post. It would appear that attempting to have an honest conversation about these matters will result in those who live by internet clicks feeling obliged to destroy those who try to engage upon the subject. That ought to be a cause of sadness for all of us, and especially those of us who would like to see less inequality in the future.
    And now to write something provocative—have Prof. Lewin’s videos been made available again or not? That was the original issue, and it is still important. Should a university acting on the current legally suspect quasi-judicial investigation into a sex-related accusation be able to deny access to a valued resource? If they should, why?

  214. PowerBacon Says:

    I have to laugh at the idea that you for some reason need your feelings and ideas “approved” by feminists to be valid. Make no mistake, your opinion on them means absolutely nothing to them and their ilk.

  215. Janet Says:

    My previous comment got posted prematurely. To continue: I do not share this story to elicit sympathy (because things did get better, slowly, a and I eventually found love, etc.), but to illustrate why I’m so bothered by the assumption that female nerds experience only passive rejection (being ignored) while male nerds have to contend with being actively spurned. For most of my adolescence, I was subject to the direct, overt message that I was unattractive, and that nobody would ever want me. And it was clearly not about my looks. Judging by photographs, I was not actually ugly as a teen, and certainly not hideously doggish. I was wierd. I was socially awkward. I was unfashionable. I was too smart and didn’t try to hide it. I was picked on because I was a nerd.

    As for the assumption, which I hear all the time, that even an ugly girl can have as much sex as she wants, because teenage boys will screw anything, well, I suppose in a sense that’s true: I probably could have had sex if I was willing to have it with someone I knew despised me, and as long as I didn’t expect to get any physical pleasure out of it. Luckily I was not quite self-loathing enough to try that.

  216. Chelsey Says:

    I think it is important to think about the ‘great works’ or ‘valued resource’ of any man that has been accused of harassment, assault, rape, or similar.

    Sometimes the resource itself is flawed in a way that is self-evident to, say, women or people of colour, because the person who produced it was themselves flawed and we can’t really completely separate the creative act from the mind that produced it. However, suppose we can say that the resource is somehow completely without flaw, flaw being possible along a spectrum of a work that mildly supports harmful cultural stereotypes to the ‘brilliance’ of the atomic bomb or weapons platforms that are used in imperialist wars.

    Even if the creative work itself is not contaminated by such things, the production of the work does not occur in isolation. People don’t steal off to their laboratory or cave and emerge with a completed work, fully formed. They have collaborators and students and families and otherwise that are necessary to support their work and support them to be able to do their work. If someone leaves a trail of casualties along the way, e.g. Jian Ghomeshi in Canada, or Bill Cosby, do we still want to say as a society that the work and the production of their work was untainted and should remain as a public treasure? In a world that denies accountability so often to women who have been harmed by men in powerful positions, is it any wonder that those of us who have been so harmed breathe a collective sigh of relief that something, anything, is being done to hold those people accountable and perhaps provide a deterrent to situations like that in the future?

    Who exactly is valuing this resource, and why are we so collectively socialized to protect the reputations, careers, and great works of powerful men over the lives and bodily integrity (not to mention careers and potential great works) of women? How is it that a teenage girl can be gang raped by multiple teenage sports heroes who broadcast it all over twitter and ruin her life, and CNN and a broad swath of society focus their lament on the damaged lives of the boys? Is it any wonder that women stay silent?

    We have a lot of work to do.

  217. can't stand it anymore Says:

    Don’t you know? The world rewards you because you have structural conferral of social benefits to your class and shields you from failure/danger. That is why right now a mob of oppressed, unprivileged people are executing your social and professional destruction completely unhindered by any sort of check on their behavior by society or government. Because they have no power and do not benefit from institutions or society positively sanctioning their actions like you do.

  218. mindslight Says:

    As someone who used to follow your blog regularly (but subsequently fell out of it and usually only ends up here via HN these days), I have two main words to say to you in regards to comment 171: “Thank you”. Thank you for sticking your neck out and expressing a nuanced opinion even in the face of an inevtiable witch hunt (fwiw, the life-overwhelming response you received was precisely what people mean when they compare the modern “intellectual” environment to .su).

    I identify with being completely marginalized in early life (although I did not take it as hard as you), and that most modern “feminists” so rabidly discard your perspective just illustrates what the “movement” has warped into – feel-good groupthink that promotes the illusion of fighting oppression, while actually just unloading mob injustice on the defenseless and creating its own power structure. That it hits hardest those who are predisposed to caring, while being trivially ignored by the real assholes is an irony not lost on me.

  219. Distribution Says:

    Chelsey, I’m sorry to hear about your experience. Sounds like a pretty gross injustice.

    Thanks for explaining your views on oppression. I think a material notion of oppression is interesting, but I think feminists typically use the term more broadly (at least when talking about women’s oppression).

    I think we should consider the material aspect of the Scott’s experience. He was driven to see a psychiatrist, which cost money and took time away from his schooling or work. If he had succeeded in getting chemically castrated, then that would have caused lifelong medical consequences. That sounds pretty “material” to me.

    Also, the social problems of nerds (male or female) might translate into lost wages. If someone has severe social problems, then it’s likely that other areas of their life will soon start to suffer, like their work or their health. Someone should do a study on this.

    Being made to feel miserable isn’t the same as being deported or forced into poverty by structures and systems that were set up and are maintained in order to do that to certain groups of people.

    I think you are using a very black-and-white definition of oppression here if you are only counting stuff like deportation, poverty, and medical costs. And that’s fine. Just keep in mind that feminists commonly use a much more relaxed notion of oppression when talking about women’s suffering. For example, I think most feminists would consider slut-shaming to be an oppressive cultural message, even if it doesn’t cause economic or medical hardship.

    Personally, I’m open-minded about how to define “oppression.” I just want to get rid of the double standard where life-destroying cultural messages to women are considered “oppression,” but life-destroying cultural messages to men are just an “individual” or “personal” problem.

    I’ve also asserted that I agree the concept of patriarchy is undertheorized and lacks empirical evidence. That does not mean that women do not notice the realities of our lives, just that perhaps we haven’t had the time or longevity in academia to definitively prove that there exists a system of male domination in our society

    I am fine with you or feminists in general noticing patterns in your hardships, and how they relate to cultural ideas about gender and the practices of institutions. All we nerdy guys want is the freedom to do the same sort of examination of our hardships without feminists trivializing it as “individual” or “personal” with sociological hand-waving.

  220. Jules Says:


    You say that you would have traded places with women, blacks & gays without a second thought. I understand this, because I was the gay kid who would at the time desperately wanted to be heterosexual. When it became clear to me that that wasn’t something under my control no matter how hard I tried I decided that I wouldn’t ever tell anybody that I had sexual desire for men (I didn’t really have a concept of homosexuality at the time, I just considered it a dirty and shameful obsession), and I planned to marry a woman, though I realized that this would make me miserable for the rest of my life. Then my main reason for living was because I focused on learning math & computer science.

    The mistake we were both making is that we assume that we are trading places with a happy kid. Of course any unhappy person would trade places with a happy person. You thought rationally about being a gay kid and realized it isn’t that bad, but when you are in that situation you are unable to think rationally, just like you were unable to think rationally about being a heterosexual kid. The root cause of this is the images imprinted on kids by society. Children are very vulnerable in that regard. When a kid constantly hears about sexual violence by men from his teachers/parents/media, or when a kid constantly hears his friends/classmates/adults/media around him talk negatively about gays or use ‘gay’ as a synonym for ‘bad’, then that can create deep though mostly irrational wounds over time.

    I believe THAT is what should be fixed, and NOT segregate the nerds/gays/whatevers into their own camps.

  221. Null Says:

    Scott, I hope you remember: you did all you could to please the feminists, and you slipped up once, and they went after you.

    No man is ever safe with these people. Now in academia you have to toe the line, and I understand that, because you have a passion that can be pursued nowhere else, and it is an important one, for science and for mathematics and for all of humanity for whatever applications it may eventually propagate to.

    But I hope you’ve seen what they’re like, and even if you’re not free to say anything, I hope this makes you think twice about calling yourself, and more importantly, being, a feminist. No man is ever safe.

  222. Anon. Says:

    An MIT SNM # 212: Let’s not exaggerate things. Scott is not getting fired, that’s not on the table (he has tenure). Even if it was on the table, Reif and MIT in general are reasonable and don’t fire people for trivial reasons. And while Marcotte’s piece is awful, nowhere is she suggesting that Scott should be fired. There’s enough animosity in this discussion without making exaggerated claims to victimhood.

  223. Jules Says:

    p.s. In the other post you propose the theory that the thought patterns of nerdy males are hyper masculine, and many of the problems stem from the fact that they can’t imagine that anybody would be attracted to any male. I don’t buy this theory. I know plenty of shy, nerdy, autism-spectrum gays (including myself), who are also incredibly reluctant to approach a potential mate. Consider also the the other side of your theory: the idea that most males more easily approach women because they are partially attracted to men. I honestly find this exceedingly unlikely. The simple explanation is the right one: it’s their shyness, not their lack of attraction to men, which makes it hard for heterosexual shy, nerdy males to approach women.

  224. Hugh Alexander Says:

    Like many, I have been following this blog for a few days, and like many I will express what a pleasure it has been to see an internet discussion among intelligent people who are mostly trying to reach each other rather than beat each other down. Well done, everyone.

    Years ago I was in grade 10 or 11 and dealing with many of the same issues that have been expressed here so clearly by Scott and others, but something a bit strange happened that made it all a bit easier. My history professor (male) had quotations printed on posters that were placed above the blackboards around the classroom. One of them said:

    “The noblest of men have thoughts that would scare the devil himself.”

    Now it’s not that I believed the author was such a powerful Authority that I could receive absolution from the decrepitude that was my brain at the time. Far from it. I knew with certainty that the author was just as evil and corrupt as I. He was rationalizing- no doubt. He had no claim to authority, or nobility, of any kind.

    Yet, here was a corrupt individual, just like me, who had actually managed to do something with his life. He had taken a thought, wrote it down, and here it was on the wall of a classroom in the middle of nowhere, being read by someone he couldn’t know existed. Success. There was hope, even for someone like me.

    It still took many years before I realized that girls were as interested in me as I was in them.

    I’ve tried googling the quote, but no success. It’s possible the teacher wrote it himself.

  225. Distribution Says:


    Would he honestly rather be a black kid with a group of friends in the USA than a kid who was completely socially isolated? I can certainly see that.

    Good question. It’s quite possible that a poor black guy with a shitty job and a relationship may be living a more fulfilling life than a white male nerd with a good job, but who is lonely and socially damaged. I think lots of people would prefer a shitty job + a relationship to a good job plus no hope for a relationship (and some people might prefer the reverse).

    Nerdy white males have some socioeconomic advantages in opportunity. But socioeconomic factors shouldn’t be viewed as the main important ranking of success. Social support, mental health, sex, and relationships are also a big component of quality of life, and nerdy white males often do worse than other groups on those dimensions.

    Remember, many nerdy white guys get such bad social treatment that they start to fail at school or work, and cannot take advantage of their socioeconomic opportunities. Being on the bottom of a social hierarchy (like nerds are) can start to damage other parts of one’s life, such as work or health; this is a well-known finding in psychology.

    Nerdy males are “privileged” in general over women if we only count socioeconomic opportunities and perceived competence as the most important goals in life. That is an absurd, and frankly, androcentric conception of human flourishing.

  226. Alex Says:

    Thank You

  227. member of set Says:

    R #99: I spent a fair amount of time looking for the Leigh Butler reference on the Tor books website. I felt it was worth linking directly here so others may see it. As an anecdote about personal struggle, it has relevance here. I appreciated your sharing as well. Thank you. And thank you, Scott.


  228. Interested reader Says:

    Scott Alexander has written a blog post about this whole thing: http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/01/01/untitled/

    tl;dr: Amanda Marcott may be a Vogon in a skin-suit, Laurie Penny’s article gets a Not The Worst Person award for not being written by a Vogon in a skin-suit but still minimizing the experiences described in #171, a suggestion that if this isn’t a structural issue driven to an extent by feminism then none of those words have meaning.

  229. Amy Says:

    MIT SNM #212 – Lewin sexually harassed a student or students. Scott is speaking his mind, and has tenure. He isn’t going to be fired. There are rules about all these things. Before jumping to (extreme) conclusions about possible consequences for actions, investigate and find out what actually happens, and why — not in theory, but in reality. Not doing this was part of the problem Scott described in the first place.

    There are still faculty who get away with slaps on the wrist for serious, overt, documented cases of sexual harassment, btw, or whose cases are left uninvestigated for years. NYT reported recently on one such case at, I think, Yale. Is it a problem, yes.

  230. V Says:

    The worst thing about framing things in terms of “privilege” is that it poses “privilege” as something obviously bad, and this tends to lead people into thinking “let’s take privilege away from the privileged class”, rather than “let’s extend the privilege to the whole of humankind”. It’s really UNprivilege that we should be fighting against.

  231. Daniel Seita Says:

    You can find all the videos here.

  232. AD Says:

    Gil Kalai #209: I too think exposure to feminist messages about how awful being hit-on when you didn’t want it was and taking them too seriously did some damage to my ability to interact with women. To a much lesser extent than Scott, of course. I should say that it wasn’t just feminism that gave me these toxic messages — it was a combination with the absolutely horrendous neo-Victorian (Patriarchal, even) messages that society in general was pushing at the time.

    For another similar data point, see Scott Alexander’s Radicalizing the romanceless that Scott Aaronson references in comment #35.

  233. Michael Says:

    I’m just amazed that these discussions are even appearing on your blog. I think it shows how far you are from the shy miserable kid you once were that you’d be willing to have such a public personal discussion on your blog. I wouldn’t dream in a million years of discussing something even moderately personal on a public internet forum, let alone one where I might get hundreds of responses.

    I wouldn’t worry about the haters. There are some delusional people out there who would see sexism in a potted plant, and your comments didn’t strike me as demeaning towards women. I think most people would agree.

  234. Anon. Says:

    I enjoyed Scott Alexander’s piece (#228), particularly the quote

    “This would usually be the point where I state for the record that I believe very strongly that all women are human beings. Problem is, I’ve just conceived a sudden suspicion that one of them is actually a Vogon spy in a skin suit.” (referring to Marcotte).

    He also has some stats that show that the STEM advantage of males is highest in high school, which means it’s wrong to blame Silicon Valley for its lack of females.

    I also enjoyed devalion’s old post (#227).

  235. Julia Says:

    I am shocked and appalled by the witch-hunt that followed Scott’s comments and this blog post. Many people are treated unfairly and are bullied, especially during their formative years. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and different people may react differently to similar circumstances. Everyone’s experience is valuable and worth listening to and learning from. Why is it important to rate and compare different kinds of suffering, define the absence of one type of suffering as privilege, etc, is beyond me.

    We should be able to have open and honest discussions on these topics, without vicious attacks, that only lead to people being afraid to speak their minds. Not being able to discuss these issues openly, honestly, rationally and calmly, in my opinion, ultimately hurts feminism, and hurts women.

    Lastly, I know Scott personally – he is the one of the nicest, most open-minded, and supportive (to women) people I know. The portrayals of him in some of the comments as a misogynist could not be further from truth, and simply are not helpful.

  236. Chelsey Says:

    I found this helpful description of oppression, that summarizes in the equation:
    “Supremacist Ideology + Discriminatory Acts + Structural Dominance = Oppression.” http://www.publiceye.org/oppression/systemic.html

    I think it is useful in sorting out why sometimes we are talking past each other. I’ve been trying to emphasize here the Structural Dominance dimension because I see a huge lack of attention and understanding of it- in these discussions, in society at large, and much of contemporary feminism at least the kind in popular media (which I’ve also critiqued many, many times). Slut-shaming was given as an example… it’s not a form of oppression, it is a discriminatory act that helps to form a system of oppression (male dominance or ‘patriarchy’).

    Similarly, I don’t regard the shaming, bullying or intimacy problems of shy male nerds to denote the oppression of shy male nerds as a group (by who, everyone else? or just women/ feminists?). Certainly they are subject to many discriminatory acts, as have been outlined so candidly throughout these posts. Those are important for all of us to get on board with addressing. I’m not sure about Supremacist Ideology- I guess we could point to an ideology that says ‘alpha males’ are more desirable sexual partners than shy male nerds, but then we’d have to look at the roots of that ideology and whether it comes from women, men, political-economic relations, differences in earning potentials, a historical accident, innate biological or evolutionary factors, or some combination thereof. If it’s ‘alpha males’ themselves controlling the narrative of their superior sexual prowess and desirability (regardless of whether women have fallen for this lie), then the argument that it is feminists who are to blame really falls apart. As for Structural Dominance… do shy male nerds exist within a “hierarchical position of dominance that is structural”, and if so, who is above them in that heirarchy, and what do those more powerful people do to maintain the heirarchy (usually these structures are backed up by violence or threat of violence, hence the need for liberation movements- that are often met with intensified violence… although for example in some societies patriarchal structures don’t need as much violence to maintain them because the Supremacist Ideology does nicely. these things intertwine and interplay to maintain the overall system of oppression).

    I’m genuinely not seeing how the shy male nerd problem is a problem of oppression, because of this Structural Dominance aspect (I also think that conflating it as such causes much potentially damaging confusion, including the impulse to throw feminism under the bus). If someone could flesh that out for me, I’d appreciate it.

  237. Amy Says:

    I’m reading Scott Alexander’s blog and finding the thinking to do with feminism really weird and hostile, also substantially point-missing. That long post of his is making me wonder if any of the guys arguing about these things have ever been anything but well-off financially (again, no, being a student with a supportive, well-off family behind you doesn’t count), and whether they have any clue about how people outside the professoriate and professions live. Any clue at all. I’m going to have to go back and reread the Jewish bit because I was actually wincing and skipping parts.

    I think actually he’s underscoring Laurie’s point for her: yes, well-to-do people have pain that is real, but for God’s sake, look around you. The point is not to make a competition out of suffering, or to say that the well-off aren’t allowed pain or sympathy, but that perhaps, given that it’s your turn in so many respects all the time, you can see why your pain is not a top priority for people who have more basic and urgent concerns.

    Which I guess brings me back to Scott’s “seat at the table” bit in his Jan 1 update. I already addressed this in #155 above, but to recap, the questions are:

    1. If you, Scott, are representative, how representative? In other words, is this an issue for working into, say, harassment workshops where there’s only so much time for various messages, or is it something that needs a meliatory workaround for a small population?

    2. What research have you done in feminist writing/theory (by people actually regarded as feminists) to see if there are existing strands of thought which you feel can address the problems? In other words, rather than saying “fix this, it doesn’t work”, where have you looked for solutions, and do you have realistic and workable contributions?

  238. Vitruvius Says:

    So you did something not completely unreasonable, Scott, and now you’re being excoriated for it by a bunch of braying feminists like Amy and Chelsey and Amanda Marcotte? Well, look on the bright side, now you know how Walter Lewin feels. What was it I said? Oh yes, now I remember: “you don’t want this to happen to you at some point in the future, do you”?

    Here’s a clue for y’all, free of charge: when they start talking about race, class, and gender, mount a full frontal attack, or absquatulate. Do not attempt to negotiate; they have nothing to offer in exchange. Now go back and re-read the words of the Berkeley Professor, who has got it correct.

    And happy new year, Scott, sincerely. I hope we can return to intelligently discussing quantum computing here in the future, and not this sort of politico-sexual nonsense that is already more than adequately covered by the rest of the bogosphere (sic) and by the idiots on day-time television, where Dr. Phil once said to one of these braying I’m-so-oppressed frauds: “If brains were lard you couldn’t grease a skillet”.

    Until then, keep in mind the words of Oscar Wilde, who noted that “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious”.

  239. An MIT SNM Says:

    Chelsea #216 / Anon #222 / Amy #229:

    Okay, I certainly hope I’m wrong. Then again, there’s the case of Steven Salaita a few months ago, who got offered a professorship and accepted it, then got it rescinded because of some tweets. All in all, people get hounded and fired for less than what Scott did (e.g. gettingracistsfired.com, buying the wrong t-shirt), people with much higher status than Scott get fired for crimes comparable to what Scott did (e.g. Brendan Eich, donating to the wrong group), and there is precedent for professors being fired (e.g. Salaita, tweeting the wrong things). So the risk is certainly nonzero. If Scott had _any_ job besides tenured professor, I bet it’d be pretty significant, which is frightening for the rest of us.

    In any case, I think these comments highlight why this discussion is unproductive. Chelsea #216 claims that we need to be harsher on powerful men, by listing specific examples where men did terrible things and got away with it. I think sometimes the pendulum swings too far, and gave specific examples where the outrage machine does terrible things to men who don’t deserve it. Yet Anon #222 says this is an “exaggerated claim to victimhood”. Overall, the entire arc of the past 700 comments on this blog are people dismissing stories of males suffering as individual and unimportant, while simultaneously holding up individual stories of females suffering as systemic.

    To prove that one type of suffering is systemic and another is individual, you _need_ statistics. It’s totally insufficient to cite your own life experiences, or specific examples, because there will inevitably be people with exactly the opposite experiences. Yet I can’t remember a single stat being cited by anyone in the past 200 comments.

    Like, there was the mini-discussion over “do ‘creepy males’ drive women out of STEM?” earlier. Some people said yes. Some people said no. Some people said “I’m a woman in STEM and I wasn’t bothered at all.” Some people said “I’m a woman and I got driven out of STEM that way.” All of this is totally, totally useless for anybody besides letting both sides feed their confirmation biases by selecting certain anecdotes as representative and others as individual. No matter where the mean is, there are _always_ tails on both sides.

    Amy, you said I should go “investigate and find out what actually happens in reality”, and you haven’t written your systemic vs. personal post yet. Do you agree with the last few paragraphs here?

  240. An MIT SNM Says:

    Also, an anecdote about how nerds should approach girls, which was originally what this discussion was about, hundreds of comments ago.

    Last night I stumbled upon a text post on tumblr, reblogged tens of thousands of times. It said, “I hate when creepy guys ask if they can hug you when they’re about to leave, because then you’re forced to do it and touch them, eww!” And I thought, that’s dumb, they just asked. Can’t you say no? According to the replies to that post, evidently not.

    That highlights two dual problems. The first is that nerds are scared to approach girls because of a possible bad reaction. The second is that girls are afraid to flat out say no to requests, which turns every innocent question into coercion. Both of these are due to weird features of society, and both of these must be solved at the same time. Maybe that’s why there was so much resistance to Scott’s proposal for educating nerds to talk to women earlier; Scott only sees the first problem, and many women commenting only see the second.

  241. pb Says:

    AD #232

    “I too think exposure to feminist messages about how awful being hit-on when you didn’t want it was and taking them too seriously did some damage to my ability to interact with women.”

    Just some clarification of this common message – it’s not awful to get hit on when you don’t want it, it’s awful to get hit on when you don’t want it and you know there’s a very very big chance that “no thanks” (verbal or non-verbal) will produce some sort of backlash or no result at all. It’s a collective lack of respect for the wishes of women that ruins it for the individual man who might just be respectful. I encourage this fact to be spread far and wide among anguished males of all ages, so they know the appropriate actions to take when women complain about being hit on when they don’t want it: 1) make sure you’re respectful and not resentful when you’re turned down (and be aware of non-verbal turn-downs), and more importantly for those that are already respectful 2) spread rule 1 to your male friends, because they’re the ultimate source of your anxiety about this.

  242. quax Says:

    Geez, stayed away from the blog for a while and can’t believe that I missed this epic theater of the absurd.

    Kudos for laying your soul bare like that. Undoubtedly you are not the only one who had to fight these demons, and fortunately this didn’t warp you into a misogynist (as far as I can tell via my awesome remote perceptiveness).

    What strikes me as surprising in this debate is the perspective on structural power and how it plays into ‘privileges’. Admittedly, I am completely ignorant of genders studies, but one thing seems rather obvious: Teenagers simply don’t have much power in our society, and the unpopular nerdy kids even less.

    Of course white male privilege is a reality, and if one travels in different societies it becomes something quite noticeable. But that privilege is something that mostly plays out later in life – it is bosonic in nature – the more privileged you already are the more is given to you.

    It would be nice if everybody could at least agree that no matter the sexual orientation and gender that any teenager starts a difficult journey when puberty hits, and deserves some help and understanding.

  243. Brad Says:

    For those attacking Scott, I have a simple question. Do you accept that there is anyone on earth who (i) suffered harm as a result of feminist rhetoric, and (ii) would have treated women honorably without that rhetoric?

    As long as such a person exists (and it is irrelevant whether Scott or any other particular person is an example), then this debate is not about feminism at all. Rather, it is about the age-old question of whether (or when) the majority should benefit at the expense of the minority. In this case the majority are the women who would benefit from additional messaging to unsensitized men. The minority are the over-sensitized men who suffer from additional messaging.

    Reasonable people may differ about how to balance the interests of the majority and the minority. To solve that debate, we would have to reconcile deontological versus utilitarian ethics, which is beyond the scope of this blog (or so I hope!) Unfortunately, however, I think that many of the strongest emotions shown thus far (including Marcotte’s) are with respect to this broader ethical quandary.

    But the biggest contribution of Scott’s #171, I think, is with respect to the humble question posed in the first paragraph. And as any good complexity theorist is want to do, Scott has demonstrated that a positive response to this question reduces the debate to a much harder and more controversial issue (majority vs. minority). We don’t need to solve the broader issue to appreciate the reduction.

    In short, I think that separating Scott’s simple observation from the ethical debate that it implies could lead to a much more civilized and productive discussion.

  244. Eggo Says:

    On Fedora-shaming:

    “…Tumblr illustrates how the process of reintegrative shaming may work in the context of online activism by offering earnest commentary on negative attitudes while also offering the possibility of social reintegration…”

    “This novel addition to identified discursive activist tactics carries with it a question of whether shame is a legitimate activist tactic, or whether it is irredeemably tainted by its problematic history of deployment against women.”

    Because there is no other reason it might be wrong to shame people’s bodies and clothing.
    This is happening all the time, and academics are celebrating it as a useful tool of coercion.

    “There are many feminisms” does not excuse this. This is vile, and anyone who tolerates it in their movement bears responsibility for it.

  245. Rich Says:

    I’m very late to the party here, but just posting to add my voice to those many, many men and women affirming what Scott has written.

    I’m a dyed-in-the-wool nerd who went through very similar experiences to Scott. As an undergrad at university I was not only painfully shy around women but also felt intense guilt and shame over my feelings of attraction to them — because I had internalized the narrative that such feelings are ‘creepy’. This pathologizing of ordinary, healthy feelings ultimately paved the way for severe depression, and it took many years — and the love and support of my wife — to put that behind me.

    LIfe is sweet now. I’m a STEM professor at a top-10 US public university, and I love my job — both the research and the teaching. And, I get to go home and hang out with a 10 year-old nerd. I sure hope she never has to go through the same shit as I did; the world will certainly throw challenges at her because of her gender, but being told that normal emotions are ‘creepy’ is fortunately something she’ll probably miss.

  246. Chelsey Says:

    I’m not sure why people are griping about feminists or whoever else talking about ‘race, class, and gender’ as if we should all run for the hills when that happens, when the project of designating an identity category ‘shy male nerd’ and then developing some kind of political project to end their suffering has its roots in identity politics and feminism. Perhaps we should throw all of that out and start over. Or perhaps we keep muddling through, and develop some better rules of engagement. I’m not married to one or the other.

  247. Lawrence D'Anna Says:

    I’m sure you’ve heard it from other people, but I want to tell you I think it was a very brave thing you did to write that comment, and I’m glad you did it. Thanks.

  248. Tau-Mu Yi Says:

    I will comment broadly on this and the previous post. First, I believe that MIT should take down Professor Lewin’s videos. Sexual harassment is a serious offense and the repercussions and penalties should be equally serious. If a third party would put the videos up on YouTube, I would be in favor of that. Second, I appreciate your honest disclosure; a lot of nerds (white, asian, black, or hispanic, male and female) can identify with aspects of your story (including myself), and it is helpful to hear about it and how you addressed the difficulties in your life. Third, there is still a lot of gender discrimination in academia. It has gotten significantly better over the years, and some disciplines (like Biology) are better than others simply by virtue of having more women at all levels in the community. I am no feminist but women are clearly facing an uphill struggle in many professions, and this is a problem that the whole community must address (along with other aspects of Diversity). Fourth, I think this discussion has been blown out of proportion because that is what happens on the Internet. In my opinion we need to stick to the topic which is Professor Lewin’s videos. If they are a valuable resource (and in my opinion they are), then they should be made publicly available. However, it should not be via an official MIT channel.

  249. Scott Says:

    Chelsey #246: You raise an excellent point. My position is something like: “if others insist on seeing everything in life, even the most personal, through the lens of identity politics … well OK then, I too belong to an identity group that suffers from a lot of undeserved hatred, and I’m not even talking about the Jews. Better yet, from my perspective, would be to forget the identity politics entirely, and just talk one vulnerable human to another. But the disarmament needs to be bilateral.”

  250. Distribution Says:


    “Supremacist Ideology + Discriminatory Acts + Structural Dominance = Oppression” is a tighter definition than I think feminists typically use when talking about women’s oppression, but let’s roll with it for now. I think your own post already starts to cover the ways in which male nerds face a supremacist ideology and discriminatory acts.

    As for Structural Dominance… do shy male nerds exist within a “hierarchical position of dominance that is structural”, and if so, who is above them in that heirarchy, and what do those more powerful people do to maintain the heirarchy

    There are multiple hierarchies in life: social, economic, workplace, dating, etc. In some of these hierarchies, like the workplace, nerdy men can do pretty well. In a lot of social hierarchies, nerdy men are at the bottom. I think your example of “alpha males” is a good one, but I want to avoid that term. Let’s say instead that traditionally masculine men are above nerdy men in pretty much any hierarchy that isn’t academic, career, or a social space created by nerds themselves (like a convention). Nerdy men are viewed as socially awkward, less attractive, and “wimpy.”

    How is this hierarchy enforced? Nerds getting bullied through school is common knowledge. So yes, this hierarchy is enforced with violence, and that trauma can damage social skills and confidence later in life. This violence is institutionalized to the extent that the school system enables it.

    The other hierarchy is between nerdy men and women. Nerdy men are viewed as more awkward and sexually threatening than women, including nerdy women. It’s a hierarchy of women as socially and sexually pure and nerdy men as socially and sexually gross. This hierarchy is enforced by nerd-shaming in the media, and creep-shaming (or fedora-shaming) that targets nerds. Violence is less common; instead, male nerds fear social ostracism. Yes, this fear is often misplaced and irrational, but its effects are very real.

    Regardless of whether we exactly agree on language, I appreciate you acknowledging that male nerds experience discriminatory acts. I think you are about 80% of the way there to seeing where we are coming from.

  251. An MIT SNM Says:

    A comment clarifying what is mainstream and who is dominating the discussion, in case people lose sight of it:

    Scott Aaronson’s blog post: 34 Facebook shares
    Scott Alexander’s blog post: 18 Facebook shares

    Laurie Penny’s moderate response: 20,000+ Facebook shares
    Marcotte’s insane response: no share count, but RawStory has 338,000+ Facebook likes, and the post has almost 1,500 comments. (also, there is much less dissent in those comments than there is here)

  252. Sniffnoy Says:

    Amy #237:

    you can see why your pain is not a top priority for people who have more basic and urgent concerns.

    I don’t think anyone’s saying it should be “top priority”. But — well, let me examine the analogy Zack did in comment #26:

    blaming feminism for these problems is like blaming the immune system for death by fever, rather than blaming the disease (patriarchy) that necessitated the immune response.

    The difference between feminists and my immune cells are that the former are, uh, people. With, you know, brains. They are intelligent agents. And we have certain expectations of intelligent agents that we do not have of mindless systems. (What use is is to blame the virus or the immune system? Neither gives a crap what you think.)

    Like… minimize collateral damage. But hey! We do also recognize that sometimes you have to nuke the city in order to contain the outbreak, you know? Thing is, when you do this, you’re supposed to acknowledge it. If you’re gonna nuke the city, you could at least have the decency to sigh and say “Yes, that city was filled with innocent people, and we have killed them. We have blood our hands. But while that is sad, it was ultimately for the greater good. They were necessary casualties. History will thank us even as they despise us.”

    By contrast, the wrong thing to do is to say, well, hey, since we dropped a nuclear weapon on them, they must have been some pretty awful people, right? I mean, we wouldn’t nuke innocent people, would we? Hell no! What a bunch of disease-spreading monsters. Ick. Just thinking about them makes me sick.

    And, you know, there’s no getting around it — the question of what to do about this is hard! And maybe the right answer is no change. Maybe people like me and Scott and That Other Scott are just necessary casualties. It’s sad, but that’s the way it has to be.

    But we can’t get even that acknowledgement! Instead, when we say, “I’m afraid that any expression of sexual or romantic interest I might make would constitute harrassment,” we get told not, “I’m sorry if feminist writings caused you to think that, but that is a serious misreading, and if we wrote anti-harassment materials the way you wanted, nobody would read them”, but rather, “Only an evil misogynist harrasser would think that!” Driving us further into the trap.

    So, I don’t have an answer. I have some suggestsions, perhaps; I don’t know if I want to go into them here. Perhaps in a separate comment. But, you know, at a broad level, fundamentally it’s all about clarity. Like, I don’t distrust the examples feminists use, of things that are OK and things that are not OK; I distrust the verbal principles they extract from them. I don’t doubt that they can tell sexual harassment when they see it, that they are not intending to ban large swathes of perfectly innocuous behavior. But the problem of verbally drawing lines, of trying to find an intension for the observed extension, is a hard one, and I don’t trust that they’ve done it correctly.

    So what do I want feminists to do? The same thing they’re already doing — except with a focus on correctness and clarity. Which does in part mean tearing down the echo chamber, and actually taking objectors seriously to see if they might have a point, and now maybe I’ve set the bar at impossible. But that’s the ideal.

    I think there actually is a way to obtain that correctness at relatively low cost compared to what you might expect; I’ll admit I might be wrong. (Hint: Hedging and qualifying is useful! It is OK to embrace imprecision instead of precision, so long as you make it clear you are being imprecise.)

    But if I’m wrong… and after careful calculation it’s determined that screw it, inducing fits of scrupulosity in large numbers of people is totally worth reducing harrassment by such-and-such an amount, and every other plan is just too costly in comparison… then I hope the people doing so at least have the decency to acknowledge what they’re doing.

    But even then I’d be pretty uncomfortable with it. Because, well, I’m not very comfortable with people saying “Well, we’ll be more politically effective if we don’t worry about correctness”. To my mind, those are the sort of people you want to keep far away from you.

  253. DHW Says:

    Oh, for…

    Scott, stop apologizing. When crazy people are screaming at you that the Devil is causing all your problems, the answer to the problem is not to refashion your entire moral philosophy around belief in the Devil. The answer is to dismiss them and move on. Crazy people by definition do not have the answers.

  254. Distribution Says:

    Amy, you ask whether Scott knows any alternatives approaches to harassment and sexual violence workshops. It turns out that there is. These researchers studied the effects of different anti-rape workshops on men’s attitudes. They found that the only workshops that were effecting in changing men’s attitudes were workshops were a heterosexual male survivor was portrayed, triggering direct empathy. Stunningly, they found that workshops that focused on female victims and male perpetrators were rarely effective at causing lasting attitude change.

    The type of sexual assault workshops which treat men as perpetrators that Scott found paralyzing were found by multiple studies to not be effective, or even be counterproductive. These workshops do not have the benefits they are claimed to have, and studies have been finding this result since at least 2002, according to the citations. It’s mind-boggling charlatanism that these programs continue to exist as mandatory education for high-schoolers and college students.

    Sexually-paralyzed men are not “necessary casualties” of sexual assault education. The approach of treating men as potential rapists isn’t “necessary,” because it doesn’t work, according to this research!

  255. Vijay D'Silva Says:


    First off, it’s horrible to hear that you’ve had terrible work experiences. I hope things improve in the future, that talking to Scott helps, and that you eventually find your peace. By the way, though there may have been some aggression sent your way, I read much of the comments as a genuine desire to understand the kind of frameworks you are talking about.

    I can agree with your comment #124 that society does not need a new liberation movement at the cost of an existing one. I am however a bit confused by the repeated assertion (your #124, #164, #236 etc.) that there is a call for dismantling the feminist movement or to abandon theoretical work of feminists. Have such calls been made in this comment thread? If so, could you please point them out? I have tried to read carefully, but the thread is long and there are many comments so I may well have missed it.

    I, personally, do not yet see shy, nerdy men as a group with a common identity. “Systematic oppression” is a strong term and I can also agree (with this aspect of your comment #181 among others) that such a group is not oppressed within existing economic or political power structures. Nonetheless, I do not see a claim in this comment thread that shy, nerdy people are systematically oppressed in the structural sense that you define. I would appreciate if you could point out comments making such claims to me. I’m not asking this to test or argue with you (I already agree with you at a certain level) but because I wonder if there is a genuine misunderstanding of what some people might be suggesting and because I’d like to be on the same page in the discussion.

    Finally, I don’t see how cultural and inter-personal aspects fit into the structure you identify. Maybe they are not meant to – I’m genuinely curious. There are strong cultural factors that contribute to notions of coolness and popularity, particularly in people’s formative years. The consequences of inhabiting such a cultural structure include bullying, loneliness and varying types of unhappiness, which you have yourself pointed out (say comment #236). Wouldn’t a project that aims to limit the cultural programming that triggers such consequences be one that attacks a systematic, structural bias? I have chosen the word “bias” here because I find “oppression” and “dominance” to be too strong. To be clear, I’m again asking not to disagree with you, but I’m wondering how this scenario (addressing cultural biases by attacking the cultural programming causing the bias) fits within the theoretical framework you have delineated.

  256. Lizardbreath Says:

    Hi, Scott. I’m here from Scott Alexander’s blog. I recall you appearing on a list of net-prominent SET members. Me, I’m a non-prominent SET member. Also a woman and a bit older than you.

    Just so you know, to me, my tribe is not my culture or my ethnic group or women or even, quite, geeks. It’s: people with the developmental difference that underlies SET membership. (A developmental difference that, of course, also shows up in people who are never tested and therefore never officially become SET members.)

    So I see you as a tribesman, a mensh–and I hope you’ll see me the same way. Just so you know where I’m coming from. (Also: OMG I mentioned SET I’m like eeevil!!!111!! Good, glad we got that out of the way. ;))

    “I took the most dramatic, almost self-immolating step I could to get people to see me as I was, rather than according to some preexisting mental template of a “privileged, entitled, elite male scientist.” And many responded by pressing down the template all the more firmly, twisting my words until they fit, and then congratulating each other for their bravery in doing so.”

    Yeah, that always seems to happen to me when I try to get people to stop stereotyping me. I guess you and I make the same types of mistakes. (See, we’re tribesfolk in that way too. ;)) No, I don’t know what mistakes those are (if I did, I wouldn’t make them). Guess it’s something to do with “opening up even further when already under attack.”


    Amanda Marcotte lost the plot a while ago. Her goal is to create clickbait, not to have a serious discussion. She’s not an idiot, but she *is* a sellout; ignore her.

    I was going to write a reply to “post 171,” but what I was going to write turns out to be mostly just the same thing as…*some* of what Laurie Penny wrote. I don’t agree with all of it, but I do agree with a lot of it. Part of what I’d been going to write is basically this:

    “Unlike Aaronson, I was also female, so when I tried to pull myself out of that hell into a life of the mind, I found sexism standing in my way. I am still punished every day by men who believe that I do not deserve my work as a writer and scholar. Some escape it’s turned out to be.”

    Except that I never got so far as even getting work, any work, as anything. I *wanted* to be a scholar but…

    Well, a lot of things stood in my way. Sexism was one of them. But it was one that, TBH, I’ve always thought was at the root of the others.

    In school, my intellectual needs went not just unmet but actively stymied. Because that’s what always happens, to people with the developmental difference that underlies SET membership.

    I have reason to believe that if I’d been a boy, none of the adults in my life would’ve found this kind of stifling as acceptable as they in fact did. As it was, it’s not so much that anyone actively found it acceptable…as that they just kind of didn’t notice it happening. Again, that always happens…(see Miraca Gross’ “Adam”–note, a boy)…but in a general sense, more so to girls. (BTW, your “we’d all agree this should never happen to a girl” example happened to me with chess. :violins: Obviously I survived just fine–but my chess fandom didn’t.)

    I’m very like Eliezer Yudkowsky in personality, type of parents we had, and test scores. If I’d been a boy, pretty sure I’d *be* Eliezer Yudkowsky (or possibly you), instead of Worthless Failure. Speaking of self-immolating honesty. 😉

    Or more accurately, I’d have been treated differently in a few specific ways that I think would’ve added up to a greater chance to wind up like you instead of how I did wind up: with a stress-related illness preventing me from being able to show up regularly anywhere, and with “nothing but a bachelor’s” and in a “soft” field yet.

    I chose not to go into physics or programming because of the sexist cultures they seemed to have.

    Here’s something on that topic I wrote elsewhere a while back:

    OP, about nerddom: “It feels like my subculture has been gentrified beyond recognition, like someone bulldozed my favourite disreputable library and erected a giant noisy confusing shopping mall in its stead. Because I have a very introverted personality structure, my coping strategy is to get very sad and nostalgic….”

    I replied:

    “I wanted to be a nerd, back then, but I couldn’t because they were too sexist for me to feel comfortable around.

    “So, like you now, I just quietly felt sad….

    “I could see that I as a woman could never fit in among the nerds. I remember the day when, reading alt.geek, I finally accepted that fact. I no longer remember what it was that made me accept it. I do remember it was alt.geek, though. It was a “much as I like this culture it’s just plain too sexist for me, oh well” moment….

    “I haven’t weighed in on #ShirtStorm because I’m on both sides of that as well. [I agree with the OP that Dr. Taylor’s] a nerd [and he’s just] being bullied, and making him cry on TV is horribly cruel and doing no good…but yes, it was exactly that kind of thing that *did* deter me from science, back when I was a 15-year-old girl who’d just tested out of the first two years of university.”

    So. I believe you that you took feminist arguments the wrong way. I agree that this is not just your and a few others’ personal problem. I agree that it’s a problem that feminism should try to solve by making our communications clearer.

    But, two things:

    1. Some of these “communications” are coming to teenage boys not so much from “feminism” as from, again, teenage girls. I mentioned it would’ve deterred *sensitive teenage* me. Gifted teenagers are sensitive. That’s part of the problem.

    I don’t see that as just a personal problem for each individual gifted teen. But it is a problem for gifted education–and for colleges–not just feminism.

    And similarly, the Twitterverse is full of very *young* people. Don’t expect them to be as reasonable as you. Or, once roused, even able to be reasoned with at all.

    2. (The biggie; controversial I’m sure) The reason this is so hard is because feminists really thought this concept was easy. It seems like it should be easy–like this should be easy for men to understand. We thought we just had to get y’all to agree to it.

    That’s what feminism thought in 1970. It’s what every 15-year-old girl thinks. Even if she’s told differently, she doesn’t want to believe it.

    So there’s the strong tendency to take “not understanding it” as “refusing to agree to it.” Because…because surely, *surely* it’s easy to understand…isn’t it?

    And. Admitting we need to improve our communication is admitting it’s not so easy after all. Admitting our previous communications could be misinterpreted in that way is admitting our request isn’t so simple after all.

    And…admitting Scott Aaronson’s youthful misunderstanding isn’t just Scott Aaronson’s personal problem, isn’t just a mistake made by a few weirdos, feels like admitting that we’re not doing remotely as well as we thought. Well, and we’re not, so let’s face it and fix it.

    Some specific reactions:

    First, I agree with your OP on Walter Lewin.


    “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 sounds to me like the real problem was that you were a nerd and hence low-status, and those who succeeded via “ass-grabbery” could do so because they were high-status. You know, the typical human attitude that “a low-status male is not entitled to *any female attention at all*, therefore if he shows *any* sexual desire he’s ‘being entitled.'”

    This is the typical human attitude everywhere. It doesn’t come from feminism; feminism is orthogonal to it.

    I get the impression your point is that, from your teenage POV, that social attitude melded with feminism in an unfortunate way. But I also think you could’ve made it clearer that you do understand it is just the typical human attitude, and predates feminism, and feminism just happened to unfortunately play into it.

    But I agree that when feminism does that, we need to clean up feminist communication.

    My experience of feminism is that it used to do that far better than it does today. The baby boomer feminists who welcomed me into feminism used to intervene when they saw someone engaging in sexual shaming–“yes, even of men”–because “that supports the patriarchy.”

    Which brings me to this:

    “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. This might sound facetious, but it’s really not: I believe in the principle of always adopting the other side’s terms of reference, whenever doing so will facilitate understanding and not sacrifice what actually matters to you.”

    Here, you seem to be making the mistake of being completely unaware of an entire history of nuanced, reasoned political positions and the evolution of same…and of never even considering the possibility that such a history could exist.

    There’s *reasoning* behind the “sexual shaming is due to or at least supports the patriarchy” position. There’s decades of cultural history and cultural development behind it, too. And you act like it’s just some random superstition that someone made up last week!

    And you *assume* it is–you don’t even *consider* that it might be more.

    I guess I probably sound angry or “offended” here, but I’m not. I’m actually just trying to point out a blind spot. I’m embarrassed for you–*with* you, not in scorn but in empathy–because it’s an embarrassing blind spot to have. But it’s not like the end of the world or anything, and it’s doesn’t make you evil, or deserving of Twitter shaming, or obligated to produce any kind of “apology.” My hope is that you’ll simply recognize it and then move on.

    “But let me draw your attention to one difference: the number of academics who study problems like the one I had is approximately zero.”

    The main one would be the /No More Mr. Nice Guy/ guy.

    “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.”

    Yes, and that has taken over feminism since 2000. Pre-2000 it was pretty much unknown in feminist circles. I know because I was in them.

    So. Your experience happened outside feminist circles. The corporate-and-college pseudo-feminism of the ’90s, happened outside feminist circles. In my opinion what has happened is feminism has been almost completely coopted and replaced by baby boomer free-love-ism. In the process, insincere, status-driven accusations of “misogyny” have swamped and almost totally drowned out sincere concerns about sexism. As an *actual* feminist, I’m dismayed. /No True Scotsman 😉

    “And with that, I guess I’ve laid my life bare to (along with all my other readers) a total stranger on the Internet who hasn’t even given her full name. That’s how much I care about refuting the implied charge of being a misogynistic pig; that’s how deeply it cuts.”

    And that makes you vulnerable.

    The children (by which I mean “anyone younger than us” ;)) online are vicious. Remember /Lord of the Flies/? I’m glad you still don’t want to be a “misogynistic pig.” I don’t see you as one. But remember that many of the children aren’t interested in communication, they’re interested in one-upmanship.

    I think you were right to open up to Amy, because I think you were right that she is “an interesting, reasonable person.” But…Amanda Marcotte no longer is. (Which is a shame, because again, she’s not an idiot, just a sellout. She *could’ve* remained a reasonable person…but…well, she didn’t. I doubt she even really thinks about her shtick any more…just performs it for money. Sadly.)

    And the Twitterverse in general is also not reasonable. Pick who you let influence your opinion of yourself, is my point. Don’t let some random Twitter person’s accusation ever cut you.

    I wish I had more time to make this better, better organized etc…but, well. Better send it.

  257. J Says:


    The proportion or rich men and women while not equal, is not wholly incomparable. I’ve read multiple accounts of people very upset at Female CEOs making less than Male CEO. Clearly the women and men being talked about are very rich. I don’t think most people complaining about this issue are trying to argue that having these problems mitigated their financial advantage or that such problem’s shouldn’t be talked about, but complaining about a different class of problem. I’m gay and have experienced some number of hostilities/different treatment because of that fact. None of these have had a real economic impact on me, I don’t think that makes them unworth talking about or that complaining about them would be a failure of intersectionality. Jews are not, as a group materially worse off than other religions in Europe, this doesn’t make the latent/growing anti-semitism there unworthy of discussion. I agree that poverty/lack of economic mobility, which obviously includes poverty and lack of economic mobility with gender related causes are absolutely tremendous problems. The women (most of whom self identify as feminist) complaining about “neckbeards” “nice guys” etc, seem to me, in general slightly richer than average so the complaints they have don’t seem to me to be economic so much as about unpleasant interpersonal interactions. On this front statements along the lines of “men are so privileged they don’t have to deal with sexuality in these ways” (where the term privileged is generally used, at least implicitly, in the conventional as well as social justice theoretic sense) seem like a grating dismissal of issues. I have read many thoughtful feminist who discuss these issues or at least acknowledge them but decide that gender issues negative affects on men aren’t their primary concern. On the other hand, the vast majority of the vitriol, the body shaming, the snark, and the general mockery tends to come from people and parts of the internet who both identify as feminist, and would consider there attacks as something they are doing because of feminism. (this mocking is not limited to men, following the Walter Lewin situation I had multiple people insinuate that the only reason my (feminist identified) friends who were women could support not removing the videos was because they don’t care about abuse survivors). Given that most of these people are doing this in the name of feminism, it doesn’t seem unwarranted that people might say that feminism is causing this problem given that feminism isn’t an especially well defined term but rather a family of ideologies whose outer boundary lies somewhere between Dworkin and Christina Hoff Sommers.

  258. Dan Says:

    It’s hard to be charitable: this thread reads like a Jerry Springer episode with bigger words. And the more interesting question is getting buried: What policies would all of you endorse or suggest that would lead to more women pursuing careers in science, mathematics, and computer science?

  259. Ronald de Wolf Says:

    An MIT SNM #251:
    As you note, at Marcotte’s comments section “there is much less dissent in those comments than there is here”. One of the reasons is that dissent is actively censored there. I put the following comment there on Wednesday:

    Marcotte’s post is shameful. The “translations” are ridiculous misrepresentations and strawmen. Please read Aaronson’s original post with an open mind before judging.

    and then found my comment to be removed on Thursday (some of the replies to the comment are still there). Not sure whether it’s Marcotte or the website admins who do the deleting.

  260. Anon. Says:

    Dan #258: Let’s start with a different question: why do you think we *should* endorse policies that would lead to more women pursuing careers in science, mathematics, and computer science? Would you also endorse policies that would lead to more men pursuing careers in psychology and dentistry?

  261. Amy Says:

    Distro #254… I have no problem believing that the fraternity guys responded much better to the male-survivor workshop than to the female-survivor workshop — it’s right in line with the mountain of stories in which a guy refuses to take feminist anything seriously until something bad happens to his wife or daughter, and then the scales fall from the eyes. It has to be personal, really in some sense about themselves, or it makes no connection at all. The difficulty, I imagine, is finding men who’ll participate in telling their stories. While multiple male friends have told me stories of having been raped or molested, there’s still tremendous stigma amongst men.

    Does that make sexual-assault/harassment training useless, no, I don’t think so. Regardless of the sex of the victim in a scenario, you still need definitions, and part of the purpose of those sessions is to teach the kids what rape is, what assault is, what consent is, what harassment is. And frankly, the approach is not “You’re about to rape, you monster! Back! Back!” but “You may not realize that this is rape, but it is; the line is here, not there, so just keep it in mind. And if someone does this to you, don’t waste time wondering what you did wrong or if it’s wrong to make a fuss; come to these people for help, because that is rape.” Or assault, or harassment. Also, “Here’s how to ask,” and “here’s how to step in when you see trouble.” Not to mention, “Men are also raped.” (I wonder sometimes if the people in this thread have actually been in any of these sessions in the last five years.)

    In any case, I’m really not sure that the F-to-M switch in scenarios is the sort of thing that would’ve helped someone like Scott much — maybe I’m wrong. I think actually Scott’s problem was much closer to something that goes on routinely in my daughter’s elementary school: the district’s had increasing trouble with serious behavioral problems, and developed a new system for, well, squashing them. There’s a very stern approach and a lot of collective punishment, and all the kids are told the same thing about how they’ve got to pull their socks up, behaviorwise. The problem for eager-to-please kids who’re already quite well-behaved is that they hear *themselves* being criticised and are sure they’re doing something bad (why else would they be scolded?), but can’t see what they’ve done wrong. So they start looking for things they’ve done wrong, and getting very crazy and unhappy.

    How do you fix this? When you’ve got hundreds of kids to manage, and some large number of them really do need to be told to settle down, keep hands to selves, lower voices, etc.? You can’t have part of the announcements be, “Of course, if you’re already good, this doesn’t apply to you,” because then the misbehaving kids decide they’re already behaving. And there isn’t time during the day to have individual conferences with each child on his or her behavior. Nor can you send kids home with a behavior score unless you want a lot of angry parents showing up. What you can do, maybe, is send a note to the parents from the guidance counselor, saying “here’s what we’re doing; please check in with your child about it, and if your child is troubled in any way, worried about his or her behavior, etc., please get in touch right away, because here’s what happens sometimes and we don’t want that.” Of course, you’re still going to miss kids, because some parents aren’t caring or together enough to do that, and some kids won’t tell their parents anything, and frankly sometimes you’ll get guidance counselors responding in absolutely stupid and unhelpful ways. But you’ll get some proportion of the kids who’d otherwise suffer.

    At a university, where the parents aren’t involved, all you can do is beam messages at the students. Universities have counseling centers, student life centers, women’s centers, all of which send messages to the students. So you can be quite direct, and you can even say something at the end of a workshop: are you worried or troubled by what you’ve been hearing here, if so please don’t be afraid to speak up and talk privately with so-and-so, we can help. Which should already be happening, because anytime you talk to a group about assault, it’s a good bet that at least one person in that group has been sexually assaulted and never told anyone. The same organizations also, often, hold support groups for people who do share painful experiences or have particular anxieties. I believe my university’s women’s center has run several iterations of male rape/DV-survivor groups. And while this isn’t going to stop anyone from leaping to the most extreme views of what his thoughts mean, it can provide context and maybe some assurance that he is in fact taking things Way Too Far.

    But all this is why I ask: What proportion of the population are we talking about? I mean before we even start talking about *why* the problem exists (is some slice of it to do with ASD-related issues that are better-handled by recognizing where the Dworkinish thought is coming from? Religious issues? etc.), if you’re running public programs for large numbers of people, and you’ve only got so much time/space/etc., then yes, numbers become important in how you figure out how to handle the problem.

    Frankly, I think all of this starts much too late — college is very late to be introducing these things. Ideas about respect for other people’s bodies can be taught starting in toddlerhood, and discussions about sexuality, respect, and discrimination of various types can begin in elementary school, if the parents will do or allow it. But because so many don’t we get students showing up with tremendous naivete, often with religious fears attached, so the talk about sex really is news to them.

    I’m actually wondering at this point what MIT’s programming is like, and who does it. I have trouble imagining it’s actually fire-breathing types unacquainted with problems and concerns common to shy and very bright young men and women.

  262. Yurko Says:

    > Smash the Patriarchy!


    This the one thing that due to your kindness and willingness to trust people, you still take at face value.

    “Smash the patriarchy” doesn’t actually mean what is says on the cover. No feminists seriously campaign against the actual power, the corporations, the military industrial complex. They go after the weaklings, the nerds.

    “Smash the patriarchy” will mostly hurt you, and the younger people who are like you.

  263. Atheist Says:

    I am an atheist. I don’t like cults. It seems that some parts of the social justice movement are extremely cultish. The cause of social justice would be greatly furthered if all cult-like activity were to completely disappear immediately.

  264. Peter Says:

    Scott, was your HU lecture recorded/filmed?

  265. JollyJoker Says:

    I haven’t read through any of the comments here and I assume I’m not the first to say this although the words may be different.

    Going from such extreme self-loathing as the chemical castration thing indicated to having self esteem enough to discuss this in public is absolutely fantastic. I hope and will assume you have people around you that support you enough that you can forget about this whenever you want to.

    Happy 2015!

  266. Scott Says:

    Peter #264: Sorry, no!

  267. Corey Says:

    Lizardbreath #256: Amanda Marcotte writing at Pandagon was my introduction to feminist thought. Your observation that she’s sold out (plus An MIT SNM #251 giving the numbers) put things in focus for me; I bow to your wisdom. (And your recounting of the effects that sexism had on your life path make me want to rage and weep).

    BTW, what does SET stand for?

  268. Corey Says:

    An MIT SNM #251: Just posted a link to Lizardbreath’s comment on my Facebook feed, and both Penny’s and Marcotte’s articles showed up in the “Related Links” box with share counts. Marcotte’s article is at 1,981; Penny’s article is at 22,367. So Not Literally The Worst is doing better, which is a bit heartening.

  269. Alex Says:

    I am having difficulty understanding where the “suffering” is come from for young teenage to early 20’s men who are too shy / nerdy / socially deficit to successfully approach women.

    If you are having trouble dating women when you are 14 through 20 (or so), take the time to study mathematics or whatever else you are interested in. Throw up some posters of your favorite idol in the meanwhile. It is unfortunate to have relationships around this age because they will not last (neither the boy or girl is mature enough). I can certainly include myself in the shy / nerdy / etc. male category, but I do not remember “suffering” for the lack of a girlfriend in secondary school. I had my obsessive interests and they took precedence.

    If you are having trouble meeting women in your 20’s, there are many places where conversations with women are guaranteed (please do not interpret this in a crude way) and of course these days the internet. People without serious psychological issues or a complex of wanting to find “the really cute one” can typically find a good person around this mid- to late-20’s who they want to spend time with and eventually have a relationship with. Indeed this is precisely what seems to have occurred in Scott Aaronson’s case.

    The real problem / danger areas would be people in their late 30’s and onward who have psychological issues or personal failures precluding relationships. People who have shut down or unable to cope. Though I have not personally experienced this, I would imagine finding real suffering and loneliness here. Man or women, these are the people I feel terrible for.

    Where is the suffering for younger men or women?

    And with regards to hurting or oppressing women, it is my opinion that women are made of the same composition as men (though obviously they are genetically distinct); not ceramic. When something is ceramic, it is unreliable. My experience is that women are not more unreliable than men for any particular task that intersects their interests and training.

  270. N. Says:

    That Scott Alexander article is disgusting, and it pains me both that you endorse it and that you linked to it right below promising to stop commenting and endorsing compassion. Cherry-picking statistics, setting up feminist strawmen (straw-women?), belittling the (relevant) lived experiences of women… I tried to go through it point by point with my significant other but then we started yelling at each other so we stopped.

    I have an easy solution to your problem with feminists: stop reading both feminists and anti-feminists, and maybe any blog entirely. I could spend all my time reading “men’s rights activist” or “pickup artist” blogs too, but I took a look, decided they were awful, and decided to stop, and engage with the rational people I know.

    In your role as a scientist, you are going to have to deal with women’s issues and make choices about women’s roles in academia. I hope that you will listen to the women’s stories around you with compassion and not let your choices be colored by some idea that all women’s lives are easier than yours just because we might get more unsolicited offers of sex from homeless men on the street.

  271. fred Says:

    It’s really a bad idea to post anything personal or to engage publicly in social/political discussions on the internet.

    Any truth you put out there is just bait for all the professional internet bottom feeders making a living from distortion and stirring shit for the sake of hit counts.

  272. Really_surprised Says:

    The lack of historical perspective is remarkable, especially for people with academic training, who should understand its importance.

    The hostility on display in the Scott Alexander’s piece is frightening to me. The repeated use of ‘the feminists’ as a virtual insult is shocking.

    Clickable screeds about men and society by those who call themselves feminists exist. I certainly abhor them. But oceans of poisonous writings about the intellectual, physical, and moral inferiority of women composed over hundreds, nay thousands, of years overwhelm these clickable screeds in volume and influence. It was a default belief almost everywhere that women were inferior.

    Feminism as a modern movement has existed for hundreds of years. Among its accomplishments has been securing the right to vote for women to vote in many countries, which has changed the outcome of many modern elections. It has given many women the courage, education, and opportunity to pursue their goals.

    It really was the case that people believed women would never make meaningful contributions to science or mathematics, that they would never be able to run a marathon, etc, etc. Really! You can read all about it! And you can easily find somewhat veiled versions of the same today.

    Modern mainstream feminist issues are related to work/life balance (like say, pushing for parental leave or greater flexibility in working hours and conditions). These fall under the umbrella of feminism, mostly for historical reasons. But they should benefit everyone.

    There are venomous writings connected to every social movement. Every subculture has its poisonous members.

    It’s fine to say I think strain X of feminism or strain Y of nerd culture is poisonous. It becomes offensive and poisonous when you start saying ‘the nerds ‘ say this and ‘the feminists’ say that. Unfortunately, I think they main outcome of these threads will be to vilify feminism to people who know little about it. It’s really sad.

  273. clayton Says:

    On the contrary, @Really_Surprised #270, I think the main outcome of these threads will be to truly educate people about how to talk about these really complicated issues. A substantial commentariat (on both extremes of these complicated viewpoints) exists and has long existed, and will undoubtedly continue to turn up the volume in their positive feedback echo chambers. But a significant population of “lurkers” also exist who are reading and learning, myself included, and this has been a tremendously productive chain of threads with which to be brought up to speed on these issues.

    Many thanks to both Scotts, whose views seem hitherto underrepresented and sorely needed, and of course thanks also to the “opposition” of interlocutors like Laurie Penny, Chelsey, and Amy, who have forced them to sharpen their points. I think the signal to noise ratio in this discussion has been exceedingly high for something so fraught.

  274. pb Says:

    Anon @260

    Efforts are in fact underway to increase the numbers of men in careers like nursing: Efforts to Draw Men to Nursing Increase across the Nation. And i’m sure this is generally true for other careers where men are underrepresented. But that’s not the point. This type of question doesn’t advance any sort of discussion the way Dan’s question does, because there are an infinite number of equally unproductive questions like this that could be asked – there will always be some other group underrepresented in some other field; asking whether efforts are underway to fix the numbers of L in group M doesn’t help change the numbers of X in group Y.

    Dan #258

    Good question! I’ve already indicated that I think Scott’s cause would help the numbers of women in STEM. I’ve also alluded to the fact that we really need to work at dismantling the network of UNprivilege (thanks, V #230) faced by minorities in STEM. That’s an enormous topic in its own right, but I think the first step is to be able to identify the mirco-inequities faced by minorities (from comments about how they must have had help on homework to their being bumped from first author position) and to know the common effects of these micro-inequities (mediocre job recommendations, less-than-impressive publication records) and the collateral damage (having a reputation as a slacker, having lowered ambition).

    Vijay D’Silva #255

    The calls to dismantle feminism have not been overtly made, but the calls have been made to not have this discussion because feminists are insane and/or to completely ignore feminists and get back to Your Very Important Scientific Work I Like So Much It’s So Much More Important To Me Than The Problems Of Women Or Depressed Males. (Comments 62, 214, 238, and 212, for example, although on the last one, the author has since participated in the discussion on a reasonable level, so only the comment itself represents the viewpoint).

  275. Scott Says:

    N. 270 and Really_surprised #272: I guess this is another teachable moment for me. When I read the other Scott A.’s piece, I thought to myself, “here’s someone who, unlike me, is incredibly careful to avoid inadvertently offending anyone, and to ward off any nefarious misinterpretations of what he writes. I should take lessons from this on how to write better about fraught subjects.” Your reactions seem to have been the complete opposite—so, what bad things did he do that I didn’t?

  276. Nilima Nigam Says:

    Yikes, what a tempest.

    For what it is worth: thank you, Scott, for sharing a deeply personal story. It’s awful to grow up a shy, nerdy girl (I know), and it is sad to realize it’s pretty awful growing up as a shy, nerdy guy.

    And yes, it is, and should be, about individual stories.

  277. Ariel Says:

    Hello, I’m new to this discussion. Apologies if I repeat something already covered by others.

    First of all, Scott, thanks for this. Large parts of what you said describe my own experience – it’s good to feel less alone (and to see someone braver than me to talk about it so openly!). Still, some other parts do not match; most importantly, for me feminism was definitely not a part of the package (in my teens and twenties I thought of feminism mainly – if at all – as of one of those strange things done by people abroad. Yeah, that’s how exotic it was.).

    Just two short remarks.

    I second Amy’s question: how representative is Scott’s experience with feminism? Does it deserve to be dealt with on a social (not just an individual) level? How much of a problem is it?* (A background thought: even if it should be recognized as a social problem, is it mainly American one?) As I take it, it’s one the basic things which at the moment we do not know.

    In addition: I’m a bit put off by framing the issue as being primarily about dating (that’s at least my impression from reading the discussions). Ah, well, extrapolating from one’s own case is always risky … but here it goes: in my case it definitely wasn’t like that. Problems with dating were the late outcome, not the cause. They became painful only after the trap was already prepared, waiting, and ready.

    Could I have avoided problems with dating, given the fact that up to this day my immediate associations with childhood are shame, humiliation, and violence? Alright, I’m not completely sure, even though the temptation to answer “no” is quite strong. Still, there is one thing I’m pretty sure of: it was *not* about dating. Concentrating on dating reaches symptoms only. Treating dating as a miraculous solution strikes me also as a very naïve idea. So, why there is so much about dating whenever nerds are mentioned, I wonder?

    *Just to be clear: the question concerns the concrete issue of a possible negative influence of feminist ideas and programs. At the moment I’m not asking whether the unhappiness of male nerds is a social problem.

  278. Dan Says:

    @anon #260:

    I’ll take the bait. Rephrasing your question: Why *should* we do anything about the “gender imbalance” in STEM?

    Among a very long list of reasons: Because like Scott, and most of the regular readers of this blog, there’s a number of fundamental questions in math and physics that fascinate us. And because putting a larger share of the world’s smart women on the case increases the chance we get to learn the answers to those questions in our lifetime.

  279. pb Says:

    My thoughts on Scott Alexander’s piece:

    I related to it. But probably not precisely in the way that Scott Aaronson did, or many other guys here. For me, I encountered this same attitude when, as a female, I dared to voice the question to some close friends of why it was so hard for me to start up a relationship, when so-and-so was able to? The nuances of my case are different, mainly in that I wasn’t comparing myself to a walking horror story like Henry, but rather I was comparing myself to somebody very like me, with similar faults. My question was immediately distorted into a question I wasn’t asking – the response was something about why I didn’t have a right to some guy’s affection, everybody is attracted to different people, I shouldn’t assume I’m better than that other girl, the sex was probably good. In reality, I was looking for the same thing Scott Alexander was looking for – actionable advice about how to deal with one’s lack of success.

    So I agree with his overall message, even though I have a little quibble about his fuzzy thinking related to nice guys vs Nice Guys and the feminists who trash on them both indiscriminately. He doesn’t realize/recognize there is a really big difference between the two that actually exists, the latter being a guy who actually thinks he’s entitled to something because he’s bought into the narrative of “I’m nice therefore I deserve ___” and the former being a guy who actually is nice and is really just curious why he isn’t getting something that other guys are easily getting despite being total jerks. He writes off the feminists that trash them both as taking a really horrid approach; I agree that it’s horrid and pointless, but I think it came about because it takes a LONG time for individuals to put their finger on the distinction between nice guys and Nice Guys and the appropriate response for fixing the problem (what he suggests, not what has been done), and some trash is bound to get released along the way.

  280. Anon. Says:

    Scott 274: I’m not sure (personally I found you and the other Scott to both be inoffensive), but I’m guessing that what people found offensive with the other Scott’s writing is simply the fact that he is bashing feminists. In contrast, you made it clear that you are 97% on board with modern feminism, and you emphasize how you kept your feminist ideals.

    I sort of wish that the other Scott identified as a feminist himself, and simply wrote from the perspective of “Marcotte is giving our movement a bad name”, instead of writing as an outsider to feminism. I think his impact would have been greater if he wrote like that.

  281. Observer Says:

    CH defines: “The goal of feminism is to remove all constraints on female sexuality while maximally restricting male sexuality.” Even if Scott decides to take personal moral responsibility for all of the supposed evils of the patriarchy, his feminist critics will still loathe him. He has performed a useful service with this lesson for us.

  282. Really_surprised Says:

    Clayton #272, I hope you’re right. There seems to be either a lot of ignorance or (very, very rotten) cherry picking in the discussions of feminism, including in the Alexander piece so praised by Prof. Aaronson and in some of his own remarks. One could make almost any ‘ism’ look horrible using the same techniques (including rationalism, to take an innocuous example)

    I’m sorry that some puritanical aspects of fringe feminism made Prof. Aaronson’s suffering worse (although looking to Dworkin for comfort and advice was really perverse and makes the armchair psychologist wonder. Maybe he wished to better identify with Turing by making his own suffering worse? He was a teenager after all ). But I think feminism has pushed society to accept women as sexual beings in their own right and so has had a liberalizing influence more than a puritanical one.

  283. Anonymous Male Says:

    @Really_Surprised #270: Unfortunately, the poisonous strain of feminism, as you call it, is extremely vocal and boasts a considerable fan base. So vocal, in fact, that the average somewhat-uninformed man has a hard time finding opinions that are not constantly blaming the male gender and its behavior. Not surprisingly, I believe this substantially increases the risk of identifying their opinions with those of the feminist movement overall. Perhaps, the more mainstream strain of feminism should make more efforts to prevent this from happening, and be self-critical about the reasons for having failed to do so already.

    As an indication of this phenomenon, one should count the number of self-declared feminists who, over the last few days, offered a non-poisonous analysis of Scott’s comment outside this blog.

    Overall, one cannot avoid noticing that some highly visible women are offering some disservice to the general feminist cause, which is a true shame.

  284. Vijay D'Silva Says:

    pb #274, Yes, there have been requests to abandon this conversation entirely and return to something more mathematical. I’m a regular reader of this blog and these requests pop up almost every time Scott makes two posts in a row that are not strictly technical. I would not read these as anti-feminist. Which is not to say there haven’t been anti-feminist comments here. However, I was specifically asking where (and if) a claim of throwing away feminist theory was made in this thread because people entered this conversation with very different perspectives and also have a different amount of context, both with respect to the topic and with respect to this blog.

    Scott #275: Have you seen the reactions on Scott Alexander’s blog? Witnessing how sensitive the topic is and how often text is interpreted in ways I would never expect and that are contrary to the intent of the author, I feel there is a strong case for some kind of mathematical language to be used here (though I have no idea what that language would look like).

  285. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Just writing to thank you for talking about this problem so openly and honestly, and to wish you the thickest of all possible skins.

    I am affected by this myself, though nowhere near as badly as you were (I’m depressed, but not suicidal). I’m in my mid 20s, straight cis nerdy man, and although I believe I experience sexual/romantic attraction about as strongly as others, I have never acted on it in any way or expressed any romantic or sexual interest in anyone. As a consequence I have never had any kind of romantic or sexual interaction with anyone.

    In my mind it’s just not worth it. Anything I do in that direction will be inept, because I have no experience, and I’m at an age where people no longer accept or expect inexperience. At age 12 I could have messed up asking someone out, and it would be just another embarrassing experience to learn from. If I did the same thing at age 21 I might make someone fear for their life, I might be arrested, I might be fired. Zero tolerance means that my first attempts would not be tolerated.

    Romantic interactions are probably a lot of fun, and if anyone in my life ever unambiguously expresses romantic interest in me I would reciprocate (as carefully as possible). But that doesn’t seem likely, so I’m sort of resigned to that aspect of human experience being closed to me.

    To be clear, I’m not shy, I can meet people fine, I can talk to people of any gender, I don’t find it hard to make friends. I just can’t initiate anything more than that. It’s just too easy to badly hurt people, and I don’t have the right to hurt anyone but myself.

  286. Aaron Sheldon Says:

    A person’s perception of their suffering is often completely unrelated to their access to privilege.

    As corollary, we often desire what is worst for our well being.

  287. aram Says:

    A lot of great stuff in these discussions and my kudos to Scott, Amy and other commenters. I think really_surprised #119’s point #7 is very important.

    I think that your family, friends and maybe culture at large failed you as a young person. … But please don’t put this at the feet of feminism.

    Scott’s point is, in the spirit of consciousness raising, that society failed him (on this particular issue) and not only him, so that makes it a somewhat general problem.

    I am sympathetic to Scott’s pain but also share the skepticism of many commenters that it is feminism that is at fault here. Maybe for Scott it was reading Dworkin that made him shy, but it is hard for me to not believe that his problem, like mine, was simply having low social status. Spending part of my time in a subculture (high school debate) with a different pecking order made this super obvious to me, because I noticed that my shyness changed with context. As an adult I learned, as most do, to care less about status, and also I’ve had the privilege to spend more time in contexts that treated me well.

    The objection that Scott and other nerds are often privileged in other contexts doesn’t totally address this. People inhabit multiple contexts (family, friends, work, dating, etc.) and can suffer in one while doing well in others. I think Scott is not doing his cause any favors when he says he was willing to trade with people experiencing other suffering (unless he acknowledges that this willingness to trade was based on not really understanding what e.g. victims of poverty or racism were experiencing), nor when he says that his suffering is uniquely underappreciated (when did you last hear about Calais?). But in a good society, we would worry about unnecessary pain in any sphere of life, even for people who are otherwise doing well.

    I suspect that these points lie within the convex hull of the above comments, but will post anyway. I also want to express my almost 100% agreement with everything Gil has said in these posts. 🙂

  288. Lou Scheffer Says:

    I think there is whole issue that’s missing in this dicussion.

    One of the basic ideas expressed here is that some feminists are expousing ideas/shaming/shunning that cause fear and self-loathing, particularly among shy nerds. One of the conclusions is that they should calm down their over-the-top rhetoric since they are making some folks lives a living hell.

    But on the other hand, why are the shy nerds believing this stuff? I think the overwhelming consensus of commentators here is that there are many people who call themselves “feminists”. Some of them (probably the vast majority) are arguing for causes that are both just and not likely to injure others – equal opportunity for women in all affairs, no coercion in sexual matters, etc. However, there is a very vocal minority that is engaged instead in mean-spirited nerd/male bashing. A reasonable person will pay attention to the issues raised by the first group and ignore the rants of the second.

    So where are the mentors and teachers of the nerds in all this? The ones who should be telling them that you can’t judge a group by its most extreme members? That *these* parts of the feminist agenda make sense, but *those* parts have descended into male-bashing? That you should look at the evidence all around you (There are lots of relationships entered without coercion. How do you think they got there?). Maybe even teach some social graces – if you are guy, ask once and back off gracefully if she says no. (And if she snaps at you for asking she’d have been a rotten partner anyway.) If you are a girl, it’s OK to ask. If you’re a guy and a girl asks you out, it’s fine to say OK – but if you are not interested, be extra gentle since it took a lot of guts on her part to ask.

    Of course the shy nerds may not believe any of this. But just knowing that reasonable folks (the ones the shy nerds look up to) can hold these views can help a lot.

    This also has the supreme advantage that we (as a nerd community) can do something about this. Trying to tone down the rhetoric of haters – good luck with that. Trying to teach our sons/daughters/students some perspective on opinions expressed by others? That’s a great idea, not just on feminism but on any controversial topic.

  289. Anon. Says:

    @Really_surprised #282: where are the mainstream feminists condemning Marcotte’s piece? If there aren’t any, then I no longer feel comfortable calling myself feminist. I’d probably say instead that I’m “feminist, but also anti-feminist”: I support equality for women, but I find mainstream feminism to sometimes be nasty and vile.

  290. Chelsey Says:

    @Scott and @Distribution I think this discussion has shown us the potential limits of identity politics as a framework, which as I mentioned I’ve critiqued within feminist circles as well.

    I don’t get how no one is noticing that this political project of ending the suffering of shy male nerds has degenerated into the vitriolic shaming of feminists… that feminists are the devil, that feminism is an evil conspiracy to harm men (an actual quote directed towards me on facebook by a PhD educated therapist). And that is fine, because I’ve been hearing this stuff all of my life, to the point where it has resulted in death and rape threats and actual physical violence. I guess the problem is not so much feminism, but that very human tendency that is on full display. Do we now create a political project to stop the shaming of feminists? How many meta levels can we reach until we completely forget that some people in the world can’t feed their children, and the ecological systems that we all depend on are collapsing?

    Someone above wrote: “Clickable screeds about men and society by those who call themselves feminists exist. I certainly abhor them. But oceans of poisonous writings about the intellectual, physical, and moral inferiority of women composed over hundreds, nay thousands, of years overwhelm these clickable screeds in volume and influence. It was a default belief almost everywhere that women were inferior.”

    Feminist mistakes aside, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the sacrifices of my elder feminists and those long gone who put up with reams of hatefulness in order to secure me the kind of rights I enjoy today. I wouldn’t have been able to attend university in a science field, for one. That doesn’t mean that some people who call themselves feminists (as well as sisters, mothers, friends, girl scouts, or any number of identities) don’t do vile, basically human things and we should condemn those things (not with a fresh round of shaming aimed at a whole diverse group of people who are really only trying to make this world better for everyone, including the children being bombed back to the stone age in Palestine with sophisticated weaponry because some of their parents have ideas that we don’t like or something).

    Happy 2015, y’all.

  291. Lukas Says:

    Thanks for doing this, Scott. When I grow up, I want to have as much courage as you.

  292. Eggo Says:

    #282, there are a lot of rotten cherries to pick from. And when they end up on our plates, you’re telling us it’s rude to point them out.

  293. Chelsey Says:

    I’d also like to clarify that my prior posts asking how the shaming of shy male nerds is structural oppression is not because i’m in some kind of contest and i feel it will diminish my own suffering. It’s because I honestly don’t know if ‘shy male nerd’ is a useful identity or sociological category, and I’d like to see us adhere to some kind of standard of social science or else things degenerate into utter nonsense. I agree with Amy’s assertion above about the need for a solid, well-rounded liberal arts education…

    @Distribution thank you for your clarification and I think i’m getting closer to 97% of the way there to seeing where you’re coming from, and the structural aspects that nerds experience. 😉 Thank you for taking the time to explain further and answer some of my questions.

    I definitely come from a more Marxist school of feminism that prioritizes the economic and political aspects of oppression over, say, dating life and intimacy. Of course they are all wrapped up in each other but I’m much more concerned with the material aspects of peoples’ lives because I think it focuses the bulk of our efforts on the people who are struggling to even survive. That requires putting our own suffering aside to centre the suffering of others, the most marginalized people, the people struggling under the weight of multiple axes of oppression, something I have tried to do although I’ve experienced trauma in the workplace and this can muddy things considerably.

  294. Atheist Says:

    One of the most bizarre and disturbing parts of this whole discussion was when, in response to Scott’s description of extreme misery he experienced when younger, there was a backlash that condemned Scott while labelling him as “privileged”. Everyone knows from their childhood experiences that one of the classic bullying techniques is to label the victim as “privileged” in some form (e.g. highly intelligent) so that they need to be taken down a notch or two. The “privileged” label undermines empthy/sympathy for the victim, and encourages piling on to the bullying, while discouraging defense of the victim. The “privileged” label has been placed on Scott as part of a massive online bullying campaign. (The word “privileged” is most certainly NOT being used for some legitimate social justice purpose.) This is not just a phenomenon in the schoolyard or the internet. Hitler labelled the Jews as “privileged” so as to incite hatred and extermination. Everyone should reflect on the morally abhorrent way that the “privileged” label has been used.

  295. Mike Says:

    ” . . . so, what bad things did he do that I didn’t?”

    His tone was different. He wasn’t as apologetic sounding, and in some circles that is what is really being sought. I agree that substantively there wasn’t a material difference.

  296. Shmi Nux Says:

    Really_surprised $282:

    You are right that “feminism has pushed society to accept women as sexual beings in their own right and so has had a liberalizing influence”, even when the males found this uncomfortable. This has been praised repeatedly by both Scott A’s. Unfortunately the radical wing of feminism eventually shifted into restricting and stigmatizing male sexuality when the females find it uncomfortable (“creepy”). Here is to hoping for all genders and sexes respecting others as “sexual beings” as long as their sexuality does no harm to the rest.

  297. Jen Says:

    Dear Scott; when you made this addendum: “Someday I’ll say more about the inexhaustibly-fascinating topic of nerds and sex—and in particular, I’ll write the promised post about shy female nerds—but not now. This will be my last comment on the subject for a while,” you completely shut down any faith whatsoever I had in you. Frankly, I think you got nothing.

    Because what I have seen happening for decades is this: male nerdy guys largely want to date exclusively “hot” women, and they ignore women who don’t fit a very narrow definition of conventional beauty, whether it’s Natalie Portman or Marilyn Monroe. There can be umpteen female nerds around who share their interests and tastes, but because they have short hair, are overweight, or have bad skin, etc., they get ignored as potential partners even if they are desperately and obviously interested in the male nerds.

    And all this happens while the male nerds expect somehow that women will see past their own overweightness, lack of hygiene, lack of style — straight through to their stellar characters and encyclopedic knowledge of Tolkien. There is a profound cognitive disconnect there. Nerdy women put up posters of Einstein — nerdy men put up posters of SportsIllustrated models.

    Put another way — by defining down the pool of women you want to get with to the 10% or so who meet your beauty standards, OF COURSE you are going to find getting with women that much more difficult, because you are looking for an even narrower subset of that pool — women who are nerdy and are willing to look past your own nerdy exterior.

    Again, frankly — I don’t think you and your supporters want to admit that you have this double standard. I don’t think you WANT to get with shy female nerds, unless they happen to look like Natalie Portman. So if I’m wrong, I hope you’ll come out and explain why. But I don’t think I’m wrong. I think you got nothing.

  298. Kev Says:

    Scott, that you find Scott Alexanders writings less likely to offend reveals all the more that you have a giant blind spot on these issues.

    He, like you, essentially waves away the problem of sexism in nerd culture. “No, never, nerds wouldn’t do these things”. Which is laughably absurd. Read even a little on the internet and you’ll find women complaining about abuse/harassment anywhere from Comic-con to science lectures. It happens. This silly “well, no nerd I KNOW would ever, therefore never” is head in the sand type stuff.

    Like you, Scott A. also seems to blame feminism for his woes, but like you, he reveals that no, it was in fact his own psychological problems, and not women. He even says that he was asked out, but he ran away in fear. That is not a woman’s fault, not even a wrong-headed ignored feminist like Andrea Dworkins.

    Scott A. is saying that nerds don’t ask women out because feminism tells him he is a toxic loser unworthy. That is such a laughable fabrication, and ignores everything about society (like, nerds weren’t afraid of asking girls out before feminism? Really?) that to treat this as a wonderful article shows that you are still “blaming” feminism for you issues.

    And I understand, it’s easy. It’s easy to say “not my fault”. It’s fun to say “I triumphed when I stopped listening to feminists and asked a girl out”. But it is wrong. Totally, 100% wrong. Feminism does not say to never speak to women. To never ask them out. That was in your head. And you still lay it on their feet, as something to be apologized for. but you are owed no apology. It’s great that you are happy and confident now. But it’s time you come to terms with your past misery and realize that it was just something you had to work through on your own. You weren’t special, many of us have gone through often crippling insecurities.

    So yeah…Scott A’s piece was hugely awful, and much, much worse than your comment 171 on any scale I can imagine. If you can’t see that…i got nothing.

  299. Really_surprised Says:

    Scott #274

    Your original comment 171 was a very personal cri de coeur. I was saddened by your interpretation of feminism and its role in your pain. But it happened to you and it’s hard to argue with on some level.

    Alexander tries to characterize what feminism is and he utterly misrepresents it in an awful way. And it’s done with an air of authority, which makes it worse. A few hateful posts by some random people who call themselves feminists? Vile, but that in no way represents feminism. And, from a historical perspective, it’s just a drop in the ocean compared to the screeds about women.

    Alexander’s rhetoric really is on the level of ‘Hey men say this ‘, ‘men say that ‘ , ‘men say this and that ‘; ‘Other men you need to disavow this!’ except replace ‘men’ by ‘feminists’. How does random awful guy X get to represent men? How does random awful woman Y get to represent feminism? It’s a movement that has existed for hundreds of years.

    Yes, there is some awful sexual politics that gets labeled as feminism. Yes, some poisonous, mentally unstable people are attracted by extremist politics. Yes, it’s all very clickable. But it has little to do with the core of modern (usually quite boring) feminism.

  300. luca turin Says:

    Post 171 was great. Thank you Scott.

  301. KT Says:

    Thanks to the contributions of N. and pb.

    There’s a lot I wish I could/would say about feminism, men, women, etc., but I won’t. I’m tired and depressed by such discussions. Thank G-d Amy still has the energy now and then.

    Moving on more constructively, why not do your* part for women and men in STEM by teaching young people how to talk to each other with good manners? Manners are an algorithm by which we can guide ourselves more safely through the scary shoals of interactions with others. It is also helpful to have scripts to start a conversation, gauge interest, and then end it gracefully. Manners give us boundaries, scripts give us a path.

    Practice with people you’re* not attracted to first. It takes off the pressure for everyone, and you might meet a potential friend. Use rejection as data about your* approach and audience. Take a systematic approach. (Of all people, Ramit Sethi is talking about social skills these days!)

    The creepy PUA crowd has this algorithmatization (?) right, and they practice. But this is a technique that does not have to do with an ideology. Small talk and conversations are skills that need practice, which we can certainly model in math club or math circle or robotics club or whatever. Your (Scott’s) readers are mainly adults and many have social skills that they could teach to young people. Be part of the solution!

    *you = general pronoun to audience, not Scott-specific

  302. Hmmmm Says:

    “Maybe he wished to better identify with Turing by making his own suffering worse?”

    Now, this is really IS perverse and makes the armchair psychologist wonder. 😉

  303. clayton Says:

    @ Really_surprised #282, let me go even farther:

    I think this episode is modern-progressive-liberal-reader-response-knee-jerk-democracy-think-piece-ism at its finest. Even if Scott Aaronson was aware of the ways his well-intentioned-but-mildly-oblivious-and-indelicately-phrased theorizations on his (starkly remembered and bravely unveiled) personal reminiscences could be misinterpreted, to see him (by all accounts, a truly good-hearted and high-minded person) endure the rack-stretching was deeply humbling and instructional. Even if certain people feel that they know what Scott “really meant” all along, it seems that other communities that felt marginalized by aspects of the presentation of his valid complaints had legitimate gripes with what he said and how he said it, and people in between learned a lot by seeing that process. For Aaronson to sharpen his ideas, and for, e.g., Scott Alexander among others to generalize and connect these ideas to the literature and to existing debates in other fields, was a process many of us needed to go through, but which was expedited by the public nature of this back and forth.

    I haven’t followed this in the secondary literature (Twitter, Reddit, etc.), and maybe (undoubtedly) the low-pass filters work sub optimally there and signal to noise is much lower. But here, and in the longform responses this links to, I think there is just very much to learn from. Feelings may have been hurt along the way, but that’s part of learning.

    So: thanks everyone.

  304. Lawrence D'Anna Says:

    I’m not sure how wise it really is to “always adopt the other side’s terms of reference”.

    Language is used for connotational as well as denotational meaning. The words we choose to use convey our assumptions about the moral worth of things, and about which categories are relevant, and which examples are really central to those categories.

    If you’re going to concede “patriarchy” in that way when speaking to feminists, wouldn’t you also have to concede “death tax” when speaking to Republicans?

    I don’t think I’m being unfair to say that when people who claim to be for gender equality use FEMinism to mean “everything that’s good” and PATRIarchy to mean “everything that’s bad” they are up to a bit of rhetorical mischief.

  305. Lawrence D'Anna Says:

    Observer #281: Asking Heartiste to define feminism is like asking the pope to define the Reformation.

    There is no point in debating who is or isn’t “really” a feminist, or what the true nature of feminism is, or what its true goals are. Down that road lies nothing but cherry-picking and no-true-Scottsman arguments.

    Feminism is a huge web of ideas, some of which are good and some of which are not.

    Debate the substance, not the labels.

  306. Stephen Says:


    Thanks for your courageous “comment 171” and all that followed. Hearing your experiences allowed me to recall and think more clearly about my own, which bear some similarity but were more dilute and thus harder to perceive clearly. Though journalists may attack, your friends will stand behind you.​

  307. Scott Says:

    Thanks, everyone. From the comments, I’ve already gleaned three huge lessons about how to talk about these issues (or how the other Scott A could talk about them) in a way people would respond to better.

    First, clarify that the issue is not with feminism per se, but rather with “nerd-shaming.” I.e., the idea that you’re different from other people in a way that makes it totally unacceptable for you, though not for the normal people, to express romantic interest. And there are feminists who refuse to nerd-shame (like Laurie Penny), as well as nerd-shamers who are not feminists (some macho dude, maybe?). Unfortunately, I think it’s hard to deny that there’s one strain of modern feminism — not the classical liberal feminism I fervently believe in, but the kind that gets pageviews today — that’s enthusiastically adopted nerd-shaming as a central part of its platform. And frankly, that bothers me orders of magnitude more than some macho guy picking on nerds. The reason is precisely that I care about feminists’ opinions in a way I’ll never care about the macho guys’. It feels like feminists and nerdy males really ought to be on the same side.

    The second, related lesson: never make blanket statements about what “feminists believe” (well, I guess the other Scott did that more than me?). Always specify which strain of feminism you’re talking about.

    The third lesson is to prominently stress your awareness that, while you had it bad, other people had it bad in other ways; indeed there might be no principled way to decide whose suffering was “worse.” And that you support social action to mitigate all forms of suffering. You’re focussing on the kind of suffering you know, not because it’s the world’s worst, but simply because you have special expertise in it.

  308. Interested reader Says:

    Going backwards:

    Observer, @281: Linking Heartiste is a sign you should reevaluate your beliefs. He is not a very nice person. He’s also wrong about basically everything he says ever. Tone arguments are kind of terrible, but there’s certainly an argument for maybe not going out of your way to fling verbal abuse, yeah? You might find http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/08/20/ozys-anti-heartiste-faq/ interesting.

    What should be done about women in STEM: Judging by the fact that the gender gap in STEM interest appears as early as high school, it looks more like a whole-of-society-culture thing than something specific to members of STEM fields. Especially given that it doesn’t seem likely that STEM is much more sexist than medicine or something. The Other Scott points that out in his very long article I linked above. Solution – fix the way society cultures girls into thinking STEM is other. Easier said than done, but getting the target right is kind of important.

    Cherry-picked statistics in Scott Alexander’s long article – which ones? There’s been some activity in the comments thread there suggesting that the Clark/Hatfield study (the one where attractive-researcher approached members of the opposite gender and directly asked them “Would you go on a date with me?” and in a different experiment “Would you like to go have sex with me?”) maybe doesn’t show what it’s being used to show because women have a small but significant risk of violence if they accept such requests, whereas men don’t have nearly as much risk on that axis. Is that the one you meant? Because I don’t think the whole edifice falls down if you remove that study. What statistics do you think are cherry-picked and what do you think represents a better overall picture?

    “Scott Alexander’s piece is mean and rude!” – I would say it wasn’t any less mean and rude than the average modern feminist blog. Probably about the same. Occasional snark, describing some spades as spades. Amanda Marcott’s work was certainly much, much worse. There’s a standard response to a commenter on Mainstream Feminism Blog saying “This blog post is a bit mean, don’t you think?”. It’s “You’re derailing with a tone argument“. And hey, this ticks some boxes – it’s literally impossible to express the fundamental sentiments this Scott and the other Scott have expressed (“modern feminism may be doing some harm to a subgroup of nerds”) without pissing off a subset of feminists and getting a couple of rather unpleasant blog posts criticising a position almost entirely unlike yours. That is, this is not an easy position to express. To quote that wiki “It is often difficult to have feminist conversations at all, with anyone; thus, when incivil participants threaten to ruin a feminist conversation, there is the possibility that the conversation will never happen again”. See how the present discussion slots in?

    “Scott Alexander’s piece is a strawman!” – Where’s the strawman? Is it quoting Amanda Marcotte? Is it where he talked about ‘weaponised shame’ followed by linking a number of cartoons and memes floating around Tumblr? Is it where he quotes Laurie Penny? As far as I can tell every single position he attributes to a feminist is backed up by linking to one or several self-described feminists holding that position.

    If you don’t think of your feminism as wielding weaponised shame at nerds qua nerds and having a one-axis representation of privilege, congratulations, you’re not the people Scott Alexander is criticising.

  309. An MIT SNM Says:

    Chelsea #284 / Really_surprised #293:

    This is incorrect. Please read my earlier comment #251 about “who is dominating the discussion”. By all quantifiable measures, Marcotte’s hate is more representative of mainstream feminism than _anything_ either Scott A. has said or anything any commenter here has said. There is not some endless backlash against feminism led by the Scotts. There is a tiny, tiny blip of resistance against feminism.

    I find this interesting because when Gamergate was exploding, the feminist stance was, “They’re all horrible people because of these hateful examples!” Then when people responded that the worst rhetoric was coming from, well, the worst members of Gamergate, the feminist response was “Then you don’t deserve to be called a movement if you don’t actively cast out the worst members.” (I say “the feminist response” in the singular because all the op-eds I read about it completely agreed with each other.)

    Well, I see precious few people speaking against Marcotte. People in this conversation have been directly asked to condemn her, and ignored it. Compare this to what I’m seeing on Scott Alexander’s blog post: early on in the comments, somebody comes in preaching about “taking the red pill”. Immediately, that person is piled on by 4 angry replies and is reported.

    Saying that academic feminism is better is just dancing around Scott’s original issue. Scott was adversely affected by the _actual_, real examples of feminism that he saw around him. You can’t respond, “No, what you saw wasn’t bad, because there exist some better examples somewhere in the universe.” That’s the classic bait-and-switch. By the numbers, Marcotte represents feminism far more than you.

  310. das monde Says:

    To #270: As a practical matter for a romance seeking nerd, he should indeed ignore feminist writings. He will “deserve” nothing with agreeing, following or argueing. This Tweeter rant is a possible reaction.

    In fact, a guy should not follow anything too eagerly at that stage of life. Instead, he should show own direction, judgement, preferences.

  311. CA Nerd Says:

    Scott Alexander’s post was incredibly enlightening, thanks for posting it.

    I’ve noticed that STEM male grad students from China and Korea are much more likely to have attractive girlfriends (usually from their countries) than American whites or Asians. I can speculate about a couple possible reasons:
    1. Their cultures confer more status to being an scientist or engineer.
    2. Much less influence of feminism, so more straightforward expectations for male and female roles and courtship behavior. So these men can do well with women even if they don’t have good “game”.

  312. Scott Says:

    Jen #297: No, it really is just that I’m hoping to get back to other topics for a while, and not let this consume my life. I even have a whole post of advice to shy female nerds partly drafted, honest. In the meantime, please check out my responses to STEM woman #384 in the previous thread, where I already tried to offer some such advice, and explained (for whatever it’s worth) how strong a trigger intelligence is for my own attraction. I write as an alumnus of quite a few crushes on (and later in life, relationships with) geek girls who might not have been “hot” in all the conventional ways.

    If you have any thoughts or experiences to share (here or by email), for me to possibly incorporate into the advice post whenever it comes out, I’d greatly appreciate that. Same goes for any other nerdy female readers.

  313. An MIT SNM Says:

    Actually, this might be a better way to say it:

    People on all sides have individual stories of suffering. To tell who has a systematic advantage, i.e. more privilege, we need to perform some kind of average. For example, “2% of men suffered X. That’s bad, but 24% of women did.” By finding many stats like this, we conclude that men are the ones with more power, and aiding women is a pressing social issue. This is totally valid. After all, it’s not like the MRAs can prove they’re right by citing a single example of a man suffering, right? They need to look at the big picture, the systemic picture.

    People on all sides of this debate have good points and bad points. To tell what the real situation is, we need to perform some kind of average. For example, “This moderate feminist article has 20,000 clicks. This moderate anti-feminist article has 20 clicks.”, and “This hateful anti-feminist screed has 10 clicks. This hateful feminist screed has 20,000 clicks.” This allows us to say what “the feminists” on average think, what “the anti-feminists” on average think, etc.

    When you _actually_ perform this average using real numbers, rather than pointing at ideal examples, it doesn’t come out good.

  314. Eggo Says:


    “they are in fact loathsome trolls who should learn to how shut up and how to interact with people”

  315. Kev Says:

    Ummmm…what? There is a strain of feminism that nerd shames? Can you please point that out, because again, i think you are wrong here.

    Are you implying that anyone who criticizes a part of a culture is necessarily saying that that group of people is beneath contempt? I mean, I’ve seen criticisms of nerd communities, but nowhere have I seen such blanket statements that you seem to imply a large group of feminists hold.

    I’ve seen feminists critique behaviour held by certain men in the nerd communities, but nowhere do I see any feminists, or prominent feminists saying that “all nerds are X”.

    You are taking valid criticism of certain people and certain beliefs, and saying “no, all shy nerds are great, this is bad, feminism bad!”

  316. Anon. Says:

    An MIT SNM #309: Awesome post. I call once again for feminists commenting here to condemn Marcotte’s piece. By not condemning it you are letting it represent you. People like Amy and Chelsey haven’t mentioned it at all (unless I missed it).

  317. Vitruvius Says:

    Over the last c. ten millenia we human beings have achieved a remarkable number of important advances in the fields of what are now commonly known as human rights. Progress from this revolution was frustratingly slow at first, and it is still patchy in some conceptual and in some geographic or cultural areas, but it has been accelerating exponentially in recent times, from the Magna Carta Libertatum (which was signed by King John 800 years ago this coming summer), to the founding documents of the United States of America (with their unalienable rights and their Bill of Rights in the first ten amendments to their constitution), through to the recent human-rights declarations now adopted by most nation-states.

    These human rights generally consist firstly of variations of the classic collection of the four fundamental freedoms (as they are known in my home in Canada), those of thought, of belief, of speech, and of association. Secondly there’s the collection of various rights generally known as judicial rights, such as the right to be assumed innocent until proven guilty, the right to an open and timely trial, the right to face one’s accuser, and the right to be judged by a jury of one’s fellow citizens. These sorts of classic human rights, and a few others, can generally be considered to be what we now know of as modern human rights.

    Yet not all is rosy in this picture, for the time has come that we now have to deal with the problem of post-modern “human rights”. Firstly we have the problem of the rent-seeking producer-captured human-rights bureaucracies, who continuously try to add to the set of results that normally have to be individually achieved but which they wish to enthrone under the rubric of human rights so that they have more and more things to complain about some humans not achieving, in order to justify their rent-seeking existence. The endless list of “human rights” in the proposed but failed 2003 Draft Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe, for example, ran on and on for 263 often incomprehensible pages promising everyone everything for free, quite oblivious to the laws of conservation of matter and energy.

    Secondly we have the problem of those who through genuine misfortune or through their own misbehaviour or through both have suffered unfortunate experiences in their lives but who instead of taking solace in the good will of those more fortunate or careful than themselves instead decide to assault those others according to the memberships of said others in various involuntary collectives such as race or gender, regardless of the nature of their individual good will. To make matters worse, rather than continuing to contribute to the classic human-rights progress we modernists have been making over the millenia, these sociopathic post-modern “revolutionaries” end up enabling the very rent-seeking bureaucrats Franz Kafka was referring to when he said that “Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy”.

    So now we see cases like that of Mr. Cosby and Mr. Lewin, who post-modern activists (like Chelsey in comment #216 and countless others including numerous variations of those like Duke’s group of eight-eight and Rolling Stone magazine and Amanda Marcotte and Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson) conclude are guilty simply as alleged by some, without regard to their various judicial rights such as innocence until proven guilty, due process, and an open public trial (for example, in the cases of Mr. Lewin’s anonymous accuser and the finding of Mr. Lewin’s guilt by a secret kangaroo-court of producer-captured MIT bureaucrats). For those sorts of post-modernists, the mere accusation of a violation of the tenets of their rent-seeking is sufficient for them to conclude guilt, human rights be damned. For those sorts of people, data like that provided by Helena Cronin, Steven Pinker, David Deutsch, and Matt Ridley are irrelevant because the data does not support their pre-conceived selfish goals.

    Which brings us to the crux of the error that is being made by many of the participants in this discussion, namely their failure to distinguish between the modern feminists and the post-modern feminists. This results in modern or classical liberal feminists and anti-racists, like me, who believe that all human beings are “equal upon principal” (as Abraham Lincoln put it in a speech on July 10, 1858, during his debates with Stephen Douglas) and that all human beings should be judged solely on the “content of their character” rather than on their race, class, or gender (if I may paraphrase Martin Luther King from his speech on August 28, 1963), being pilloried for not buying into the claims of the post-modern Marxist fraud artists selling their bogus identity politics, social justices, and success-is-bad snake-oils, who have become so prevalent in our post-classical times.

    This failure to distinguish between the modern proponents of human rights and the post-modern “human rights” activists is a critically important failure, because the post-modern activists are not interested in further progress in the genuine fields of human rights or even in maintaining our current successful results; rather they are interested in justification or revenge for their own lack of good fortune, for their own misbehaviour, or for their own rent seeking, as the case may be. People like that are not just tedious, as Oscar Wilde would have it, they are in fact an existential threat to the future quality of life of all human beings, and so they and their media enablers actually sink to the level of evil, for which one can only feel disgust and contempt.

  318. anonymous Says:

    @ Amy (comment #281 on the previous thread of Dec 17th)

    “Oh, and the business about the “small group of predators” — you know, I bet that’s going to turn out not to be true. I bet it’s going to turn out to be a pretty darn sizeable minority of men, and that the distro’s going to look like any long-tail distro, where you’ve got a small number of men responsible for lots of rapes, and a large number of men who’ve raped one or two women.”

    Amy, this struck me as your most telling comment. You imply that you read both studies:

    (1) “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists”. D. Lisak and P. M. Miller. Violence and Victims, Vol. 17, 2002.

    (2) “Reports of Rape Reperpetration by Newly Enlisted Male Navy Personnel”. by S. K. McWhorter et al. Violence and Victims, Vol. 24, 2009.

    and then assert that a “large number of men” rape (1) in the face of contradictory empirical evidence, (2) with a total lack of empirical evidence to support your claim.

    In my opinion, this exemplifies a process that is fatal to critical thought and honest debate.

    Also, please refrain from defending my choice to remain anonymous, and then labeling me “wrongheaded and paranoid” in the same breath (comment 74 of this thread).

  319. KT Says:

    In response to Scott at #312, please consider running your piece for shy female nerds by a few of them with a diversity of viewpoints before you publish 🙂

    I’ll throw in something that’s perhaps relevant to the Scott Alexander meditations (which I didn’t really like) and some of the other comments. I went to Caltech, a fine school. There were some real stressors and some blessings. Blessing: in my hovse, it was a rough rule that guys shouldn’t hit on or try to date freshmen girls in the first term. Tech is a heady place where female nerds realize they are attractive sex goddesses (bizarre, no?) and male nerds realize if they didn’t before that there are female nerds who might like them someday. And everyone is hormonal. So, what’s the problem with a bunch of nerd liberated to feel attractive to each other? The ratio. Guys flocking to freshman girls like monarch butterflies to a tree in central Mexico is a recipe for disaster. It’s a stressor. This I think the other Scott almost seemed to understand.

    So, some social rules emerged. They helped. I got to know guys as friends before rushing into the dating scene (and rush I did!). And I eventually had some really upsetting experiences with guys (doesn’t going for coffee on Wednesday mean we are dating? no? now I hate you, evil b*^&$) and some really good ones. I had some social supports around glommers (the creepy guys who engaged in stalkery behavior like sitting outside your room for hours or placed themselves strategically on campus according to your class schedule or isolated you at parties) but I also had to deal with glommers in the first place. There is so much unintentional bad behavior at Caltech that it could be a researcher’s heaven. It would be fascinating to see someone study what’s going on. It’s a place where you don’t feel good blaming anyone if you’re empathetic: a bunch of nerds coming into an amazing chance for love and sexual freedom, with little guidance and a lot of mental stressors up to and including mental illness. It’s interesting to apply a feminist analysis to the experience: shows up both strengths and gaps in the theory.

    Shy female nerds, learn some conversational skills. Shy male nerds, same advice. By doing (conversing with others) you will learn about who you are and you’ll feel less bad. If conversing with others makes you feel more bad, find a new conversational partner. If your conversational partners keep leaving, think about how you could change your message. Read Richard Hamming’s advice on how to dress and Captain Awkward’s advice on how to talk, and don’t deal with anyone according to stereotypes about skin color or genitals.

  320. Eggo Says:

    Kev #315, I link you to https://scottaaronson-production.mystagingwebsite.com/?p=2119#comment-364592

    Body-shaming is an “activist tactic” now.

  321. Chelsey Says:

    @LouScheffer re: your comment “One of the basic ideas expressed here is that some feminists are expousing ideas/shaming/shunning that cause fear and self-loathing, particularly among shy nerds. One of the conclusions is that they should calm down their over-the-top rhetoric since they are making some folks lives a living hell.”

    I totally agree with this. I’m slowly working on an article/ post on ‘Feminism and the Politics of Shame.’ This has been a great insight to come out of this discussion, that if we actually want society as a whole to progress we need to think about how we communicate and its actual effectiveness, rather than just wanting to be right all the time. And, that willingness to be vulnerable (as Scott has done) is crucial. (and that discussions that take place online are lacking in human decency to a degree that in-person discussions aren’t). I think these insights can be more broadly applied to many social problems… e.g. (and yes this is an imperfect analogy), with one side shouting ‘Free Palestine’ and having rallies etc. and even expressing a nuanced view of the conflict and critique of the state of Israel’s actions (not aimed at individuals), but then some take this as a personal attack and perceive it as anti-Semitism and cannot listen to a word the ‘other side’ is saying, and some form reactionary movements or double down on the original strategy and this cycle further entrenches the conflict and causes the deaths of innocent children. This is particularly true of a group that has so much collective historical trauma and such perceived rhetorical attacks are extraordinarily painful, fear-inducing, and really shut down any ability to listen, whether this be nerds or Jews or Palestinians or women/ feminists. But then if a person were to say ‘maybe what the Israeli people need is someone to listen to THEIR suffering too, and maybe our rhetoric around ‘evil Israel’ is actually derailing our ability to make any progress on this terrible conflict’ (as I have done in past) — then you will be summarily swarmed by angry activists declaring you a fraud and betraying the Palestinian people. So a person could then have one side shouting ‘anti-Semite’ and the other shouting ‘you are betraying the Palestinians!’ (this has happened to me). It is very hard to keep our empathy and critical thinking skills intact or know what to do with such a mess. But I don’t think standing outside/above the mess and declaring we won’t get our hands dirty with all of these people who ‘just don’t get it’ is a reasonable answer.

    So what do we do?

  322. anon Says:

    @Really_surprised Comment #272

    The hostility on display in the Scott Alexander’s piece is frightening to me. The repeated use of ‘the feminists’ as a virtual insult is shocking.

    It becomes offensive and poisonous when you start saying ‘the nerds ‘ say this and ‘the feminists’ say that.

    This sounded suspicious to me. So I [ctrl + f]’d the phrase “the feminist” in SCC’s post Untitled. Here’s what I found.

    The feminist blogosphere, as always, responded completely proportionally.

    But much of the rest of the feminist “discussion” on Tumblr, Twitter, and the like was if anything even worse.

    This is exactly those cartoons above and the feminists spreading them.

    Come back in 2065 and we can have a really interesting discussion about whether the feminists of 2015 screwed up as massively as the feminists of 1970 and 1990 did.)

    Having been excluded from all of the popular jobs, they end up in the unpopular but lucrative jobs, for which they get called greedy parasites in the Jews’ case, and “the most useless and deficient individuals in society” in the case of the feminist article on nerds I referenced earlier.

    The feminist problem of nerds being desperate and not having any social skills (and therefore being creeps to women) is the same as the nerd problem of nerds being desperate and not having any social skills (and therefore having to live their life desperate and without social skills).

    I don’t see a single unqualifying or unqualified reference to “the feminists”. For your convenience, I’ve bolded the phrases which “feminist(s)” is qualifying (or qualified by). As far as I can tell, each utterance of “the feminists” is used not as virtual-insult, but as a genuine signifier of some object/phenomenon. I think you’re being uncharitable. But I’ve considered the possibility that I’ve missed something. So please elaborate.

  323. Lisa Danz Says:

    I also loved 6.045. Yan captured how well you teach much more eloquently than I ever could, but I will say without hesitation that you were one of my favorite professors. This is in many ways thanks to the “delight when introducing most abstract constructs” that she mentions. I was three and a half years into a math major when I started 6.045, and your content and style tickled my brain in all the right ways.

    It makes me sad to hear that there are people out there saying that women (or anyone else) shouldn’t take your classes. I highly doubt that any of these people have actually taken a class from you or even met you in person. It would be a damn shame if someone missed out because of these comments.

    As for the topic at hand, I’m not sure if I really have much to add. Oppression, and how to talk about it effectively, is a hard problem. Every last one of us has more to learn.

    Laurie Penny’s post is a shining example of empathy. Everybody who ever wants to disagree with anybody should take a page out of her book.

  324. anon Says:

    A few hateful posts by some random people who call themselves feminists?

    Scott Alexander has written about his experiences being actively harassed by Social Justice Warriors in meatspace during his collegiate years. Unfortunately, I can’t find the appropriate citations and don’t remember the details. But essentially, a social justice mob went out of their way to issue him death threats over a “perceived as racist but intended as anti-racist” political cartoon which made him suicidal & reclusive for a period of time. So even if the evil strain of feminism represents the minority, I find it quite understandable how Scott Alexander might believe that “evil” Social Justice (and by extension “evil” feminism, which uses many of the same techniques) is a problem which needs to be addressed.

  325. anon Says:

    I had something else I wanted to say, but I forget what it was about and who I wanted to respond to. I guess it’s just one of the disadvantages of prolific unthreaded forums. meh.

    But before I go, I’d like Scott Araronson to know that I’ve been a long time fan of both Shtetl-Optimized and Slate Star Codex. I usually lurk on Shtetl-Optimized and comment only periodically on SSC. I greatly admire you both (including pre-comment #171) and I hope you keep up the fantastic work. I did try Democritus and Quantum Computing once, but it was too difficult for me. I put it down and plan to give it another stab at some point.

  326. HoS Says:

    Scott — As a STEM woman and longtime reader of the blog, I wanted to say how much I’ve appreciated your posts starting with #171. I’ve always thought of you as “one of ours,” not just because you are STEM, but because the qualities that I think STEM people should be most proud of — logical thinking and clarity of expression — are so much your hallmark. That you could extend those to a topic that gets so emotional so quickly, and that you got so many to discuss these things is quite commendable. I also think you wouldn’t have done your job half as well if everyone had agreed with you, because you would have been preaching to the choir. Discussion is more important than agreement, at the end of the day. And, at the end of the day, I hope you know, that you basically just rock!

    Also, to repeat something that I think you’ve said as well, I despair of the human ability to truly communicate, especially with something as slippery and non-physical as words. People come to any conversation with so much baggage and so many preconceived notions — many of which they themselves may be unaware of — that truly getting them to see a new point of view can sometimes seem impossible. This is why I think you should see the disagreements in a more generous light. You may not have got them to change their minds, but you did challenge their assumptions, at least for a little while. That is no mean accomplishment.

    Apologies for the “meta” nature of the post, I really have nothing novel to say on the actual topic at the moment!

  327. Amy Says:

    All right, so: structural versus personal. Like I said, it’s not an obvious distinction; also nontrivial. This is long and, again, I welcome revisions, (smart) rebuttals, etc. These are my ideas and observations, btw, and the first time I’ve written them down in one spot, so put the knives away, this is conversation and nothing here is peer-reviewed.

    The easiest way in may be through some talk about novels. In the last thread, Scott pled eloquently for a nuanced, highly psychological view of relationships and the up/downsmanship within them. Which is not only reasonable and intelligent but the mode of fiction for most of the last hundred years: this is the age of the psychological novel, which deals with interior states and individual existential crises. Which feel and are immediate and true, and by comparison the social novels of the century before feel clumsy, often propagandistic (and often they are propagandistic). A modern Germinal or even a modern Grapes of Wrath, which worked in both modes, would come in for rough treatment, I think, in critics’ pages.

    It’s a mistake, though, to try to read, oh, Under the Volcano the way you’d read The Jungle, because they aren’t meant to do the same things. The social novel’s subject is actually the society. It isn’t the individual. Yes, individuals are knocked around inside it – but the thing that really moves them and makes their large decisions for them isn’t their heroic selves; it’s the society and whoever holds power within it, power to make the rules. Which immediately rubs people who like to think of themselves as self-determined and free-willy the wrong way. As it should. The social novel taps them on the shoulder and says they’re kidding themselves.

    Several years ago I got to see something extraordinary play out. I was in the early stages of a divorce, and what promised to be a difficult custody fight in an unusual situation (which I won’t go into because they involve my ex-husband’s personal matters). I had a young child, I was scrambling to put a career together so I could support her, and I live in a small town. So for advice and other people’s stories I was turning to online fora for single mothers, late at night. One site in particular was very helpful and had dozens of participants at any given time, thousands of threads.

    I stayed around there, getting to know people, reading threads, asking questions, helping newcomers, for maybe two years, which was about how long it took for my divorce case to wind its way to a close. What I saw was this: nearly every divorce story was the same. So much the same that when newcomers showed up and gave their deeply personal (and often very long) introduction stories, I was able to say, “but haven’t you left out this part, and you’ll need to look out for that,” and be right enough that they wanted to know how I knew. I knew because the stories followed the same pattern almost every time, with very few variations. The woman started out trying to preserve a personal relationship while the man went to war, often pushed by his lawyer and paranoia, and sometimes by a girlfriend. The woman eventually followed suit. The couple accusedeach other of mental illness, the woman discussed violence or addiction within the relationship which she never called in, the mother-in-law tooks the son’s side. The man threatened a custody suit, the woman fell apart and considers fleeing with the kids, documentation began, there was a long conversation and/or actual nightmare with guardians-ad-litem. We can go on but it’s not very interesting. In the end the woman has partial or full custody, the man has visitation or partial custody, the actual caregiver during his time with them is often a girlfriend or his mother. A new serious girlfriend generally means a push for more custody and child-support reduction. Etc. Here’s what didn’t matter in shaping the ways in which the mothers went through divorce, including caring for the children:

    – anything to do with who the mother was, her psychology, her worldview, her self-inflected politics, anything that’d make a good modern novel.
    – the mother’s willingness or unwillingness to divorce.
    – who filed.
    – the parents’ incomes.
    – the parents’ educations.
    – the parents’ races.
    – the parents’ religions.
    – the presence or absence of an affair.
    – the parents’ friendliness towards each other.
    – the duration of the marriage.
    – the presence or absence of armchair diagnosis of the man as a narcissist, the woman as borderline.

    Here is what did matter:

    – the parents’ nationalities.
    – the existence of helpful family on her side.
    – whether or not the mother understood what a judicial system does.
    – whether or not the mother was seriously mentally ill.

    That was really all. As far as I could make out, beyond those three influences, every important decision the mothers made in how to live, conduct themselves, conduct their end of the divorces, and guide their children through divorce, despite all the personal drama, was determined by family court system itself, which is part of law, a civilized method of duelling. And it made sense: when the stakes are very high, people don’t generally behave in suicidal ways. The stakes in custody cases are some of the highest going: the children’s upbringing and wellbeing, the parents’ future lives as parents, etc. So not only were the mothers conforming to explicit rules laid down by the courts (don’t leave the state with the child, don’t tell the child terrible things about his father, go to whatever meetings are required, don’t drain the bank account), the mothers were responding extremely sensitively to all the implicit rules of divorce proceedings, even when they knew it was against their children’s immediate interests, damaging to future relations with the ex, and psychologically shredding (treat this as a battle, compete with your husband in parenting and document the competition, be civil to the girlfriend no matter how she slanders you and makes the kids cry, don’t put anything work-related ahead of the children’s activities, go to all the activities even if you’re dropping with exhaustion, appear generally madonnalike). At every turn when it would have been natural or healthy to do A (send the kids to your mother’s while you pull yourself together, take a nap, take a better job, take the kids and run away from undocumentedly violent man, belatedly mention the violence to authorities, allow some the father some peacemaking concession) they found the cost very high — prohibitively high — to do that thing, and instead did B, the thing the family court would look for. A very limited battery of things. Like cattle through chutes, everyone was, and strikingly so.

    The experience was personal, intensely personal, for each woman. Anyone who’s been divorced will say “my divorce” as though it’s a whole tragic existential novel, and it is. And yet each woman, regardless of who she was or what she willed, did much the same things. (The women who did not do these things were either those unfortunates who didn’t have any sense of the machine they were in — foreign nationals or women abroad who didn’t understand the local judicial system and local family/gender mores, women who didn’t understand that the judicial system is not personal, women too mentally ill to play the game consistently or at all, and women whose families were strong enough to buy them out of judicial circumstances others had to endure. The first three did poorly, the last did well.) Another way of saying this: There aren’t very many stories. But they’re the same few stories repeatedly, with known variations. Within the constraints of those stories — that’s where the psychological stories live. They can’t live anywhere else.

    (Anyone old enough to have seen many iterations of any high-stakes business has seen the same thing. Tenure denials, I bet, play out in a small set of ways. Immigration proceedings. Refugee flight. Efforts at getting children special-education services. Social security disability cases.)

    Anyway. What I saw was that the social novelists, including Henry James (who looks so psychological, but whose cult-of-free-will Americans meet their most thorough defeats in Europe), had a point. We are not unconstrained in our choices. On the contrary, like anything else in nature, we are very much constrained. Moving against those constraints requires energy and, where it is sustainable, produces serious local strain. The social rules constraining us, and the thinking that made them, are the structure in “structural”. Why didn’t it matter that one woman’s husband had left for another woman who was now trying to force the children to call her mommy? Because hardly any states require parties to sue for divorce anymore; adultery is not the crime it was. Why is that? Legislative battles fought in the 1970s and changing mores about divorce and family structures; a very small role for a child’s-eye view of anything in policy, little legislative taste for questions like “who is mommy” (a ten-foot-pole women’s issue if ever there was one). Nothing at all to do with this mother, this father, this girlfriend, these children. Why is it damaging, in much of the US, to go into a custody trial as a successful career woman? Because there are still widely-held negative ideas about the suitability of women with careers for motherhood, and judges are people, not robots — but they do have power to make rulings and precedent, put up another panel in a new chute now and then.

    Social novels are about two things: the hapless protagonist crushed by unrecognized social constraints (Sister Carrie, say) and the heroic protagonist fighting those constraints. In the 20th c. they usually lose (the Joads, Winston Smith, etc.). It’s worth recognizing what such stories describe, and why.

  328. Amy Says:

    *four influences, of course. Plus editing errors, apologies.

    Anon #318, you’re making a poor case against paranoia: I haven’t read either of those papers. There’s some study making the rounds widely discussed in the campus-rape conversations, and that’s what I was referring to. And I wasn’t making claims; I was hypothesizing, as people do before the study-design part. I just see no reason why people would behave differently when it comes to rape than they do in anything else, why the switch for rapists would necessarily be “rapes lots” v. “not a rapist”.

  329. Janet Says:

    Scott #312 — You ask for SNFs to chime in with their experiences. I have written about some of them above, so I won’t reiterate, except to say that I’m frustrated with the way that the Problem of the Female Nerd has been framed in this discussion as a matter of either a) being ignored, or b) coping with clumsy, unwanted sexual advances. These were not my problems. I was bullied. I was told, overtly, explicitly, and repeatedly, throughout my adolescence, that I was ugly and undesirable. Being ignored would have been a relief. And this is not my unique experience. I know other women who experienced the same kind of thing as teens.

    The overt ridicule more or less ended when I finished high school, and after a while I began intermittently, with great trepidation, pursuing men that interested me. I was frequently rejected, because it turns out that many men, even horny 20-year-olds, are more discriminating and choosy than they believe themselves to be. Except for a couple of one-night stands when I was in my 20’s, I was the initiator in every relationship I’ve ever been involved in, including with the man to whom I am now married. For a long time, the closest I got to a real relationship was as the temporary substitute girlfriend of a (nerdy) guy who was in love with somebody else (eventually he married her). Then at 28 I got involved in a “non-monogamous” relationship, which meant that my (nerdy) boyfriend had other lovers and I didn’t. Even now, 15 years into a happy marriage with my sweet, nerdy husband, I sometimes wonder exactly what was so wrong with me when I was 15, 20, 25, 30.

    Rejection sucks. Weighing a desperate desire for love (or something resembling it) against the near-certainty of disappointment and humiliation also sucks.

    I was talking about your “comment 171” at a party on New Year’s Day with a (male) friend. He said “I was a lot like him [meaning you] when I was younger,” and I said “Yeah, so was I.”

  330. DM Gray Says:

    Thank you for sharing.
    It was genuinely touching.
    I have to say that I have been touched by the OP, and the linked long post.
    I am however ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTED that people considering themselves “liberal” are a bunch of whiny sexist and TERRIBLE people just because their sacred cow (feminism) is being discussed in terms anything other than glowing and reverential.

    To the male nerd telling other male nerds that “in you 20’s everything is great”
    This is because YOU, AN INDIVIDUAL is privileged.
    Guess what, their are shy BLACK nerds living in those neighbourhoods getting shot at.
    There are shy WHITE nerds living in shitty neighbourhoods too.

    This is the problem.
    Not equality (I’m an egalitarian)
    Ivory tower “academic” liberals that have lived a life of ABSOLUTE privilege and decide it MUST be because of their skin colour or the contents of their underwear.
    Get a *grip* and stop being as racist and sexist as the people you seem to think you are different from.

    I wish I could muster the patience and class of either Scott.
    But when I see “good feminists” focus on attacking nerds and repeating the VERY BEHAVIOUR being discussed whilst not even *acknowledging* the toxic responses of Marcotte and others, I am done with anybody like that.
    I would not respect a racist as they repeat their bigotry uncontested, and I will not abide a feminist that does it either.
    Good feminists exist. This is a fact I acknowledge.
    You are a minority, and every bad feminist claims to be a good one.
    You deal with it.

  331. Joe Shipman Says:

    Scott, I feel your pain, and I’m very happy that you have gotten past your misery and found happiness and that you are standing up for the nerds.

    But permit me to jump out of the system a couple of levels and identify the meta-meta-problem you had which led you to be miserable in the first place:

    You didn’t respect logic enough, and you weren’t able to see your own society in enough historical context, to notice that the things you were taught to feel all through your early life were not well-founded. You couldn’t emotionally distance yourself enough to recognize that the following two things can BOTH be true:

    1) Feminism makes many good points and many of its critiques of society are extremely valuable
    2) A very large number of feminists are logically incompetent and can only argue emotionally, and furthermore (and this is the key point) the feminist movement as a whole FAILED MASSIVELY at maintaining coherence and consistently because they very unwisely chose to adopt the policy of never criticizing other feminists no matter how wacky they got.

    You failed to recognize that both 1) and 2) could be true, so that your tremendous logical ability was never even brought to bear on these issues, preempted by your being emotionally bullied. The reason that I, a similarly constituted nerd, escaped this misery was that I never allowed name-calling to threaten my confidence in my ability to figure out what was right–although I also had social deficits, I had read broadly enough and sought opposing viewpoints habitually enough to not be vulnerable to criticism from people who couldn’t explain themselves to my satisfaction.

  332. pb Says:

    Chelsey #290 – I’ve noticed. I’ve also noticed that there is minimal awareness of just how many females face sexual violence and real sexual harassment. In expecting denouncements of vitriolic, nerd-shaming feminists (however many of them are out there or however prominent they are) the buck seems to stop there, and not travel back to the fact that the female fear of being sexually attacked or tormented is solidly grounded in reality. Just like Anon #316 would like to see more vocal condemnation of Marcotte, I would like to see more vocal awareness of the fact that these anti-creep attitudes came from somewhere (thanks, Kev #298, for acknowledging this). The crime of the complained-about feminists is stereotyping creeps as overlapping strongly with a certain group, but this is NOT a witch hunt. Witches (in this rhetorical sense) don’t exist, creeps do. I would like there to be more of an effort in our society to reduce creep numbers so they approach witch numbers. Scott and others have pointed out the soul-crushing side-effect of the current creep-shaming approach, so I would like to appeal to the men present in this discussion, feminist or not, to work at creating your own solution to the creep problem. You can set your own table with your own issues on it and you will have many more feminists show up at it when these numbers begin to reduce.

    Which leads me to the combined topic of Anonymous Coward #285 and Scott #312. People tend to see other people through the lens of their own experiences. As a guy who doesn’t have a strong and realistic fear of sexual assault, it may seem like it’s unappealing to be sexually unskilled, or that it’s easy, with guidance, for women to pursue men. I can assure you that lack of sexual skill has its own non-threatening appeal (provided you’re willing to learn, and you find one of the people for whom this is appealing). And I want to underscore that the reassurance to young shy female nerds that they won’t be rejected with a certain approach is somewhat off base; a good number probably really want to be reassured that they won’t be raped (but how can that be a realistic reassurance until the numbers of creeps are reduced greatly?).

    I just want to wrap this up with further advice to Scott on the dating advice to women, with a reaffirmation of what Janet #329 said. Society at large and individual men and women specifically engage in a LOT of female body shaming. We get inundated with the message that we’re not attractive for x, y, AND z reasons. (In fact, I only found out about this blog post from a friend after sending her this article: Stop Stigmatizing Women’s Hair). I don’t bring this up as a claim to our situation being more intensely bad than shy male nerd situations, because to paraphrase a Hungarian expression, you can’t compare slaps received by different faces. I bring it up because an additional barrier to your advice to shy female nerds will be convincing them that the horribly unattractive self-image they might have is not actually real. This probably won’t be as great of a barrier as the previous piece of advice, but it’s still going to be one.

  333. Vijay D'Silva Says:

    Ariel #277: Thanks for bring up the framing. I too was initially put off by the dating focus of the discussion on the other thread. I would hypothesize that the emphasis on dating arises from being part of a culture where so much airtime is devoted to dating-related conversation. It is easy to feel left-out of this conversation and to also create an image of the world where this is only happening to you and go from there to some wonky causal connections.

    Lou Scheffer #288: I agree with your diagnosis and that learning that there are loud but non-representative, extreme voices surrounding any topic, especially controversial ones is something important to be aware of and to learn how to recognize. Communicating such a message to all youth is a hard problem though. I take it this is part of why Amy repeatedly returns to the question of policy making.

    Chelsey #290: Isn’t cherry picking happening on all sides of this discussion? There are people who are bullying nerdy people online while claiming to be feminists. There are people who identify as nerds and are demonizing feminists. The experiences you describe of seeing comments that range from misunderstanding feminism to being downright vitriolic about it have a parallel where nerdy people are seeing a similar range of denigrating comments about themselves. This is not to say there is a 1:1 correspondence or to justify or diminish the pain and misunderstanding all this is causing.

    So let me be explicit about this. I think that over the entire timeline of human history, feminists have done a lot of excellent work and various societies and civilizations have benefited from their work. I don’t believe anything anyone says today can change that aspect of the past. I am also aware there are feminists doing really excellent and important work today. There is also a lot of feminist theory. I personally am not familiar with much of it but I also don’t think it should be thrown away or abandoned because of the experiences of specific individuals. I expect, based on my knowledge of how other theories and intellectual movements have evolved over time, that feminist frameworks and perspectives will change over time too.

    I am also aware of friends who suffer from a separate issue of being bullied and harassed regularly in online forums by people who claim to be feminists or social justice warriors. To me, this behaviour has nothing to do with feminism and is not something I have encountered. However, there are people who encounter this all the time and it makes them miserable. They feel trapped because such behaviour invades their online spaces and because it is difficult to express their discomfort or find sympathy for it because the aggressors in these situations claim to be part of a social justice movement making the situation terribly complicated.

    I am saying all this because I believe there are silent observers who might also believe all the things I believe. I think there are other people who do not think there are two clear-cut sides in this discussion or that one side has to be completely obliterated that the other might survive. Though there are loud, extreme voices that pollute the dialogue, there are also other who are interested in this discussion and hold less extreme positions.

  334. When Structural Oppression Isn’t (But Is) | The Only Winning Move Says:

    […] recap: Scott Aaronson posted a long and rather vulnerable and personal bit on feeling oppressed by feminists, to which feminists mostly responded by bullying him. Classy bunch. Apparently because Aaronson is […]

  335. Anon. Says:

    pb #332: I don’t think anyone is denying that there are real creeps who sexually harass women. Can you point out someone who denies this?

    The only question is whether nerds do this or not. The answer obviously depends on the definition of nerd. The Scotts contend that nerds generally do NOT sexually harass women. For example, Scott Alexander says

    “The research (1, 2, 3, 4) shows that sexist attitudes are best predicted by low levels of education, high levels of religious belief, and (whites only) low neuroticism. Once again, I don’t feel it should be controversial to say that ‘very religious people who drop out of school early and are psychologically completely healthy’ is not how most people would describe nerds.”

    I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t condemn Marcotte in your post. Since I acknowledged that creeps exist, can you please condemn Marcotte’s piece?

  336. Doubting Rich Says:

    Why do you concede that your problem was caused by the Patriarchy not feminism?

    For a start there is no “Patriarchy”. There never was, in that a wealthy woman always had far more privilege than a poor man, but there certainly cannot be said to be in US or European societies in a day when women have all the rights and privilege (more votes, control of more money, better education, better healthcare, for the youngest working generation better pay for the same work, better outcomes in both family and criminal courts, suffer less violence and less harm at work …).

    Second feminism is responsible for the situation that men are assumed to be harassing women just because women say so, with no evidence and more importantly with no objective standards and the subjective standards are defined purely by the woman in question.

  337. Sandeep Says:

    Coming to this blog for the first time. I don’t have any serious wisdom to dispense, but I would like to thank you profusely for sharing your experiences in “comment #171”. Reading through long and dark feminist prose, I have suffered through very similar depressing feelings as you have, and developed a sort of “imposter complex”. I have indeed found it disorienting that such feelings are hardly acknowledged or discussed [rare exception].

    So it is very much a healing experience for me to read what you have written. I think you have done a great service to a lot of timid sensitive males who have gone through or are going through similar struggles as you.

  338. Lou Scheffer Says:

    To those of us who have had this problem, but have worked through it, and now have kids: What can we do, say, or teach to minimize the chance that our kids will have the same bad experience? This is not an idle question, since often (anecdotal evidence) shy nerd parents have shy nerd kids.

    The world contains, and will continue to contain, many, many people who have brilliant conclusions and valid points, but also many who are mean-spirited, or just plain wrong, or both mean-spirited AND wrong. This can be true even of well written arguments made by folks who are extremely sure of themselves, with many followers. Recognizing that you cannot believe all of what you read, and separating content, presentation, and attitude of a piece, is definitely a learned skill.

    This thread provides a specific example. Almost everyone here, as more or less mature adults with reasonable critical thinking skills, realizes that what is called “feminism” contains components with wildly varying degrees of validity and bias. Some are excellent points we are morally obligated to follow, but others are best ignored. This problem is not at all unique to feminism – probably all of us, during our teenage years, took to heart lessons that were best scoffed at.

    So where could we have learned the skill to reject formal, well-written, authoritative treatises that are destructive if followed, or gotten help after being sucked into some self-destructive vortex? You could argue for either schools or parents, but schools are not always so great at questioning authority. (They teach in history that the authorities might be wrong, but for some reason do not emphasize the obvious implication – that some of what authorities *today* say is wrong.) And schools are definitely not great at recognizing internal conflict in students who are otherwise doing superbly. So I think the task falls more to the parents.

    So as a parent, what can you do? Think back to your own teen years – is there anything your parents could have done differently that would have helped? Could they have seen signs that for you, this was a crippling problem? Talked over some of these issues? Specifically made the point that every movement, there is a nasty fringe that bashes opponents, as opposed to making constructive arguments? Found someone who could help, if they themselves could not?

    For many of us, it seems uncharitable, to say the least, to believe your parents, even those whose hearts were unquestionably in the right place, might have contributed to our problems. But realistically, your parent’s parenting was not perfect. I’ve certainly made my own share of mistakes raising kids, and that does not even include stuff I don’t yet know was horribly wrong-headed. As a parent myself, this is one my own worst nightmares – that even with the best of intentions, something I did, or failed to do, screwed up our kids, or made it easy for them to screw themselves up.

    If there is one thing that is clear from this thread, this is a common problem among shy nerds. So if there is any chance your own offspring is among this group, talk to them about this, watch for any problems, and do what you can to inoculate them against poisonous ideas. Probably good advice on any topic, but particularly this one.

  339. Julie Says:

    After reading Scott Alexander’s comprehensive piece about this incident, I was so appalled at the treatment you’ve received from prominent feminists that I had to come here to thank you for your honesty and courage. As a woman and lifelong feminist who graduated in the 80s from a predominantly male engineering school, I’m shocked to see the state of feminism today – the petty complaints that stand for issues, the mob mentality, the bullying, the shouting down of all opposing views, the exclusion of all contradictory facts, and as in evident in your case, the outright cruelty inflicted on innocent people. I do not consider the Amanda Marcotte strain of activism to be feminism at all, but rather an avenue for a loud minority to massage their own resentment through scapegoating of others, while hiding behind a thin veil of false righteousness. This movement, which accepts no dissent, is as authoritarian and potentially harmful as any ideology in history. Thank you for confronting it in such a personal and forthright manner.

  340. Bill Says:

    Dear Scott,

    Thank you for your honesty. I am a successful STEM graduate, and my own experiences between the ages of 13 and 30 were as painful as yours.

    My pain was aggravated by feminist writing, which was pretty much the only modern writing on gender relations that I could find. Part of my problem was my own psychological makeup – and I guess this applies even more to you than to me, because at least I was able to detect that Andrea Dworkin was a fruitcake who belonged in an asylum.

    Like you, I am a strong believer in social justice and altruism, and I will bend over backwards to help anyone who wants to make their way in STEM. I feel sufficient empathy with you to mention some of the things I have learned, in the hope that you will find them useful.

    You have the mental apparatus to change the world – through advances in quantum computing. In social understanding, you and I were not so fortunate in life’s lottery, and we should consider ourselves blessed if we can succeed merely in our own relationships. We are not going to be part of any social revolution, feminist or otherwise.

    You have already read enough feminism to last you several lifetimes, and you have internalised much of it – too much, because a great deal of it is pure bullshit. It will do you no harm if you never read any more feminist agitprop for the rest of your life. In fact you must unlearn some of the feminist ideas that have caused you harm. Feminist writing is seriously damaging to boys who have an introverted, altruistic disposition. What’s more, the sisters don’t care about that, as you have discovered from the many hateful comments on your blog.

    I suggest that you read some of the archives of “Manosphere” websites. There is plenty of material there that you will find shocking, but occasionally you will find an article that makes you stop and think, because it gives a more truthful description of reality than you will ever find in feminist literature.

  341. Rehbock Says:

    This all started with the Lewin matter. I still have seen nothing what he did that warranted any action against him.
    I have learned that the more things change the more they stay the same. There always were men who think that no means yes. There were always women who decide it was rape only the morning after.
    There always were misandrists and chauvanists. There always were nerds – we called us geeks but that has morphed.
    What seems here different is that some of the more off balance individuals are treated as though sane.
    I have no doubt a few of the feminists would prosecute God for failing to have obtained affirmative consent and ascertaining she was able to consent before impregnating that virgin Mary.

  342. Scott Says:

    Rehbock #341: In that particular instance, it seems to me that the feminists would have a pretty strong case.

  343. pb Says:

    Anon #336, I am not looking for acknowledgement that creeps exist (or lack of denial of it, as you actually provided). I’m looking for awareness of the genesis of the mistakes made by feminists. You didn’t provide that. I also think it’s pretty trite to expect me to explicitly state “what Marcotte did is wrong” because I quite clearly stated that creep-shaming (which Marcotte did) has inappropriate, soul-crushing side effects, and there has to be a better way. But, I don’t really see why this better way has to come from feminists. If men like you don’t like the feminist rhetoric surrounding creeps, you can change this by coming up with a way to stop creeps yourself.

    Your theory of nerd communities not containing creeps is busted by reality; Kev #298 cited some examples of this, but there’s plenty of other nerd-centered communities with rampant sexual harassment problems (gamers, board-gamers, and almost all nerd-centered internet forums, for example). But if you’re going to make a definition of nerds as those that don’t commit rape or condone sexual harassment, then no, of course this isn’t an issue with nerds.

  344. pb Says:

    @Scott, by means of Sandeep #337’s interesting and excellent link, I found this potentially useful guide for allowing female (or male!) nerds to distinguish between abusive and healthy relationships: Potential Rapist Profile. I do not know the scientific validity of this article, but I think this type of resource is a good place to start.

  345. Kev Says:

    I have to say, people complaining about “creep shaming” are giving me a chuckle. Creep is not synonymous with shy male nerd. It’s a very specific set of behaviours. And if you evidence them, if you act in that way to women, you are most certainly a creep. And if you keep doing it, why should we be upset if someone tries to shame you? What else will get a creep to stop?

    I also refuse to condemn Ms Marcotte. I’m sorry, but at least in her fisking, she actually provided quotes. The other Scott A. who everyone here seems to be falling over themselves to praise, just had straw man after straw man (“feminists say this” – yeah? Prove it.) And was just totally anti-feminist.

    But whatever, that’s besides the point of this debate. It just shows where people’s heads are at. If you read the other Scott, and think that he was nuanced and brilliant and fair, I don’t know how much we can agree on.

  346. Janet Says:

    I haven’t condemned Marcotte’s piece because I haven’t read it. I haven’t read it because the comments about it here convinced me that it would anger me uselessly, and my blood pressure is already high enough, thanks. Also, I don’t want to give her more clicks. I haven’t read anything of hers in at least five years, so I don’t know what she’s up to lately. But I can certainly say, even without reading the article, that she doesn’t speak for me.

    I think this is an instance where the distinction between structural and personal affiliations is extremely pertinent. I feel bound to explicitly disagree when an institution that in some way represents me misbehaves. Examples include, but are not limited to: local, state and federal government, my employer, the university with which I am affiliated, professional organizations I belong to, organizations for which I volunteer or to which I donate, etc. If I belonged to a church, it would include the church institutions or representatives. But I have no institutional relationship to Marcotte. I call myself a feminist and so does she, and so can anybody who chooses so identify. I don’t see why I should be required to explicitly disavow the words of someone who doesn’t speak for me.

    When I am involved in conversations with Christians, I don’t expect them to explicitly disavow anything distasteful endorsed by anybody who self-identifies as Christian. I might expect it if the distasteful ideology or statement came from a leader of their particular church or sect, or if the issue had to do with formal doctrine. But even then, I probably wouldn’t do it if I already knew from their own statements more or less whére they stood on the issue. I think it makes more sense to pay attention to what people in this conversation are saying about the issues at hand, rather than what they are saying about Marcotte, or The Other Scott, or anybody else who isn’t actually here.

  347. Janet Says:

    I also meant to point out that the kind of pile-on that’s occurred here isn’t exclusive to disputes about feminism and gender, or even to politics. It happens all the time, especially online, because people are lazy and don’t read carefully, and because misinterpretations quickly metastasize online, and because we rarely know the whole story, and because a lot of people (including me sometimes) seem to be addicted to outrage.

  348. Amy Says:

    Lou continues to make sensible, moderate points, and I agree with pb #332 (and many others) as well. I’d like to point out a couple of things, though.

    One, this has somehow turned into a conversation almost entirely about the plight of young lonely people trying to date, and pb mentions women’s realistic fears about sexual violence. But this conversation started because of a founded complaint about sexual harassment from a woman trying to learn physics. The problems with harassment and assault aren’t merely (or even, for some of us, primarily) about dating, but about women’s trying to do anything at all in an environment dominated by men. And consensus on these threads seems to me very far from any willingness to recognize these problems in STEM. We get evasions (it’s not just STEM, it’s everywhere) and attacks and digressions minimizing the seriousness and effects of various forms of harassment and assault. Rehbock #341 above has just dismissed the whole Lewin business with a handwave by saying “it’s ever been so”. On the last thread there were several comments attacking the student who’d reported the harassment; substantial space was also devoted to telling me that what I went through was merely a little fun and games which I was, outrageously, calling rape. I don’t think anyone’s asked Chelsey, here, about what she went through, either; we’ve passed right over that. So a question for you guys, I suppose, is how you can reach an understanding of these things without developing crippling anxiety, particularly if negotiating social rules is difficult for you in the first place.

    Second, if we’re going to turn back to the plight of bright introverts and the negotiation of messages about gender and sex, I’ll simply point out that the focus here — indeed nearly all the attention in gender issues, for that matter, regardless of venue — has been on young people. Very young people, in the scheme of things. And that a lot of people remain just as bright, and just as shy, and increasingly isolated as life goes on.

  349. Bill Says:

    Dear Scott,

    I am British, and many years ago I used to subscribe to the New Statesman. I know a little bit about their mindset, which is typical of the British left.

    Today’s middle class British or American feminist is among the most privileged 1% of people in the world. Even if she has a genuine concern for those who are less fortunate than herself, the fact of her own privilege should somehow inform her struggle. However, most feminists use projection and cognitive dissonance to avoid this self-knowledge. Instead of helping the 99%, their real interest is in attacking the 0.5% whom they suspect are even more privileged than themselves.

    You are generous in trying to think of ways that Laurie Penny might be right to attribute the trials of your early life to “The Patriarchy”. It is good to be generous, particularly when trying to understand where other people are coming from; but sometimes the conclusion may be inescapable that, unfortunately, the other person is either wrong or disingenuous.

    She is wrong if her conclusion is a result of twisted logic. She is disingenuous if she is merely repeating feminist propaganda that she does not believe herself.

    Theodore Dalrymple suggests that the purpose of propaganda is to humiliate its recipient. It does so not only by requiring you to believe the unbelievable, but more subtly by making clear that your powers of reason and observation are worthless compared to your continued subservience.

    We do not live in a patriarchy. We are not even close.

    We sometimes get a glimpse of patriarchal attitudes in other cultures. In Rotherham, England, 1,400 girls, many of them below the legal age of consent, were used as sex slaves by men mostly of Pakistani Muslim origin. The police, media, and social services knew what was happening, and had multiple chances to prevent it, but the abuse continued for more than a decade. Girls were driven from town to town to be used by a succession of strangers. In one case, a father tracked down his 15-year-old daughter to a house, and was banging on the door and asking for her release. Eventually the police came and found her hiding under a bed. They arrested her for assault, arrested her father for racial abuse, and left a number of other girls in the house with three men.

    Feminists who are usually quick to tell us about “The Patriarchy” had been strangely silent about this one for 16 years. Even the New Statesman had failed to break the story. What can we learn from this about their interest in Patriarchy, and their attitudes in general?

    We learn that they are racist. They believe that their feminism, anti-racism, and other fashionable -isms need not be observed by people of other races.

    We learn that they do not care at all about the worst kind of sexual exploitation of under-age girls – if it is the “wrong” kind of perpetrator. Their feminism, like their anti-racism, is a sham.

    We learn that they will ignore the worst consequences of a genuinely patriarchal culture – one where women and girls are chattels of men. Real patriarchy is not something that interests them – it is merely a word that can be used as a propaganda tool.

    Yet feminists continue to berate us for our “micro-aggressions”.

    I suggest that feminists are more interested in bringing down the “right” kind of man than in any high-minded concern for half the human race. I suggest that they are motivated largely by self-interest. Not the interests of the half of the population that they belong to, but the interests of upper-middle-class white women – people like themselves. Sometimes the goal is simply to have a well-paid and prestigious career as a social justice warrior.

    I suggest that feminists hold men in contempt; and that the contempt is more, not less, if a man declares himself to have feminist beliefs. They have helpfully provided ample evidence for both propositions in their comments on your blog.

    You and I can never be fellow travellers of the feminists, on a journey towards universal human liberation. Quite simply, this is not what they are about.

    The best way to deal with most of their bullshit is to do what 90% of the population do, and simply ignore it. Remember that sometimes, ordinary people believe X, smart people believe Y, and exceptionally smart people believe X.

  350. Sniffnoy Says:

    I have to say, people complaining about “creep shaming” are giving me a chuckle. Creep is not synonymous with shy male nerd. It’s a very specific set of behaviours. And if you evidence them, if you act in that way to women, you are most certainly a creep. And if you keep doing it, why should we be upset if someone tries to shame you? What else will get a creep to stop?

    The mistake here is assuming that everyone is using the word “creep” in the same way and that everyone knows just what other people mean by it. If that were the case (and also everyone were honest about such things), the logic would hold. But in fact… well, you can probably begin to see where this is going.

  351. Amy Says:

    Lou #338,

    You’re assuming of course a sane and wise parent. Below’s a short book about what I do, as a parent who no doubt fucks up daily, in trying to make sure my kid doesn’t wander off into the weeds. But before that I just want to say about the “inoculation against poisonous ideas” bit:

    What you’re really talking about there is indoctrination. I’d suggest not doing that. Let the kid know more generally that there are extremes, take them on some tours. Introduce them to the thinking and let them ask questions. The seder model is not a bad one here: if your kid is the one who wits not to ask, well, frankly, he probably won’t have a problem with this stuff. But give them to understand that in any issue people really care about, there is a very wide range of thinking, and that they need to think about where an interlocutor is coming from, who that person is, why that person is saying those things. But your child will have his or her own mind.

    That said:

    – Be close, be warm, be loving.

    – Know what she’s reading, watching, playing. My kid, who isn’t particularly shy, shows me what she’s reading as a matter of course and wants to discuss it with me. That’s a habit that’s been a lifetime in the making, and it requires genuine interest, openness, and a willingness to hear the kid and ask questions and hear the answers rather than just dispensing opinions.

    – Talk about how politics and conversations go. It doesn’t matter what the topic is; there’ll be nutjobs anywhere. The kid’s had exposure to a wide range of nutjobbery and more moderate views on a lot of issues, not just gender-related. Some kids are going to find the extremes appealing; you’re going to have to teach what the place of extreme ideas is historically and why they’re not immediately accepted by all, what one misses by living in them. Some kids are going to be dismissive of anything but status quo, and that needs talking, too. Let the kids come up with their own ideas, too, and don’t slam them for it. My kid devised the Stasi when she was four. Seemed sensible to her to go register with the cops so they’d know you were a good person and not shoot you. “Yes, you would do it that way? That’s interesting, actually some grownups had that idea, too. [“Really?” “Really.”] There were some problems with it but that’s some interesting thinking.” You can go be aghast on your own time.

    – Talk about politics, economics, everything. Put NPR on and let the kid ask questions. The ’08 crash coincided with much of my daughter’s early childhood, and as a single mom who wasn’t free to run out and get whatever job was available, I spent part of that time unemployed and making savings last. We had a lot of conversation, during those years, about why people were talking on the radio like that, why we weren’t buying this or that. And, later, why they were talking about health insurance, what that was, etc.

    We also talked about boys and girls, and differences between them, and what you come to quickly is that most kids become uncomfortable with “all boys are like this” and “all girls are like that”. Because it isn’t true and they know it. Young kids have a very strongly-developed, even obsessive, sense of fairness, and if you allow that to run, whatever your own politics might be, they will find that sexism doesn’t really comport with what they believe should be.

    – Allow sexuality. Start talking about it when they’re very young. It’s a normal thing. My kid used to follow me into the bathroom when she was a toddler, and you allow that because you don’t want the kid to get hurt or scared while you’re in there. So when she got old enough to associate blood with injury, and I was in there changing a tampon, I explained to her about where babies grow in mommies, and this way she understood it wasn’t that I had a bad boo-boo. The education’s gone on in bits and pieces ever since. And to some extent you follow the kid’s lead on this; you don’t push further than they can go, and if they’re feeling modest and private you respect this. You tell them explicitly to come to you with questions about things their moron friends have told them about sex. But it means in the end they know that they can ask. And this becomes EXTREMELY IMPORTANT in developing a sense of what’s normal. Because that’s the preoccupation when you’re young, isn’t it — are you doing this right? Is it normal? Are you a freak, a bad person? Is something wrong with you? The ability to hear, from trusted people, that there’s a tremendous range in how sex and sexuality and development goes…I think this helps a lot. You need a sex/relationship sherpa, or many sherpas, whom you know and trust and who seem like smart and sane people. Doesn’t have to be your mom or dad or sib, but knowing that it’s allowed to find and ask these people, that’s a big thing.

    – Talk about these issues. When gay marriage came around, my kid was outraged that it isn’t legal to marry lots of people if you all want to be married, and we talked about why the law is what it is. One day she comes home and says the gym teacher’s kind of sexist, which shocked me, because it’s actually not a word I’d used around her at that point. I say what do you mean, and she tells the story, and it turns out she’s right. So I said, “Okay, so what do you want to do about it?” The answer was “Nothing.” That’s fine.

    – Pay attention to what they’re learning in school about sex, dating, gender, bullying. Know the guidance counselor and talk to him or her about what the kids are learning. And again, discuss these things with the kid, see what the kid is thinking, listen.

    – Pay attention to the kid’s friends. What do they say, what do their parents say, what attitudes are being taught along the way? Ask the child what she thinks about these things, give her an opportunity to articulate and examine it.

    – Pay attention to what the kid avoids and how the kid does it, and where the child’s having trouble, and for goodness’ sake don’t take it personally or as an indictment of your parenting. Then seek help before you do anything. Ask people who actually deal with a lot of children like this what they do. Because the odds are pretty good they know ways of handling this that you’d never have thought of — after all, if you were good at this, you probably would’ve handled it by now. If they offer to help, let them. If the child’s very shy or very anxious, you might be talking about a lot of psychologist time, but one of the most valuable things that can come out of that is that the kid understands that so-and-so is a problem for her, and is coloring her reactions.

    – Understand what you’re not good at and find subs. I’m very bad with anxious people because I’m too crashingly selfconfident to have good empathy where it’s desperately needed, and I wind up doing more harm than good. Find nice people to help where you’re weak and then get out of their way.

    – See that the kid has the vocabulary for talking about their problems. That’s a big one. If you have no idea how to name the problem, you suffer in silence.

    – Initiate conversations sometimes. Don’t be a noodge, but now and then make the opportunity for a heart-to-heart. Knowing that you aren’t alone, this is a big thing.

    – Watch and think about where to step in. If a kid enjoys dystopian thinking and self-generated nightmares, fine, the kid’s a dramatic teenager. But if the kid’s locking himself in his own mental closet about it and becoming miserable, then you have to do something. Find a smart confidant, whether that’s a therapist or not. If the kid has any sense at all, she’ll be able to hear that in fact she’s hurting herself and that it isn’t the only available choice.

    – Understand too that at a certain point they don’t want to talk to their parents about these things. Show them that even people who sound like ninnies can have very good and helpful advice, and be appreciative. Show them how to accept help from others, do it yourself.

    Enough, no?

  352. anonymous Says:

    @ Amy (comment 328)

    “Anon #318, you’re making a poor case against paranoia: I haven’t read either of those papers. There’s some study making the rounds widely discussed in the campus-rape conversations, and that’s what I was referring to.”


    False. You responded to Sniffnoy (#277, Lewin thread) in your #281, even using his/her terminology “small group of predators”. This can be easily verified. Sniffnoy provided a link discussing the two articles cited.

    Scott’s blog postings have shown the futility of comparing personal experiences. A reasonable option is using existing scientific studies to test statements such as:

    (a) “Oh, and the business about the “small group of predators” — you know, I bet that’s going to turn out not to be true” (Amy, #281, Lewin thread)

    (b) “I just see no reason why people would behave differently when it comes to rape than they do in anything else, why the switch for rapists would necessarily be “rapes lots” v. “not a rapist”.” (Amy #328, this thread)

    Yet, when provided with studies that contradict your hypotheses, you ignore them repeatedly without providing evidence of your own in support.

    Even if you can’t recognize this behavior, I hope other readers can. Again, I believe this behavior is fatal to critical thought and honest debate.


    Again, the studies cited are:

    (1) “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists”. D. Lisak and P. M. Miller. Violence and Victims, Vol. 17, 2002.

    (2) “Reports of Rape Reperpetration by Newly Enlisted Male Navy Personnel”. by S. K. McWhorter et al. Violence and Victims, Vol. 24, 2009.

  353. Joshua A Says:

    Good luck getting research attention on “solving” the problems you went through as an adolescent boy. The whole point is that it’s a competition, and all is fair in love and war. For example, allowing a high potential male to wallow in the false belief that his only two options are to A) be silent and shy, or B) be pushy and disrespectful of girls’ boundaries, is a sound strategy for someone who is competing with him for the same women. In fact, learning to connect with girls based on things they actually are interested in, while simultaneously dropping hints of dominance games only when other guys are watching, might just serve to keep potential rivals confused.

  354. Amy Says:

    Oh – and Lou #341, stories are invaluable. As seen here. When my daughter was almost three, old enough to run away and disappear in a crowd, I made up a story for her about her favorite character, one Mr. Mouse, in which the two of them got lost in the mall together. They found a policeman who helped them find her mother, and she loved this story and wanted it over and over for a while. About four months later, on Yom Kippur, she wandered upstairs from the synagogue’s babysitting to find me and was of course immediately lost in the crowd. She knew just what to do: she went to the High Holidays cop and told him she was lost and asked his help, and apparently described me as having black hair and wearing a pretty dress, which was of course no help at all. Luckily I came out then and saw them, but it was great, because she hadn’t been scared for a minute, and she came away confident she’d handled it well. (Plus she got a sticker.)

    Stories are good.

  355. Chelsey Says:

    I also haven’t read the Marcotte piece and to be honest I haven’t even heard of Marcotte til this moment.

    As for asking feminists to condemn other people claiming to be feminists… I think the reticence to do so comes from a pretty understandable place. I think it’s because, as pb mentioned above, not many people actually understand the depth of female pain or how many females actually face sexual violence or sexual harassment, and then we’re expected to denounce those who are rightfully angry or too ‘vitriolic’, when we might not see it in quite the same way. We might have also seen more gentle attempts at ‘dialogue’ fail, time and again. Like, if we just get men to understand our plight then everything will be ok. Change doesn’t work like that, and anyone who has studied history might realize that.

    Activists are often asked to condemn those of us who are seen as ‘too angry’ , or ‘destructive’, or engaging in too radical of tactics. Anarchists types and any activists are told to condemn the black bloc, or anyone who might engage in the destruction of property. Indigenous activists and allies are supposed to condemn anyone who talk about decolonization in a way that makes settlers too uncomfortable or scared. Palestinians are told to condemn Hamas. Black people were told to condemn Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela (all who at the time were considered ‘terrorists’). This is a common thread throughout history, and I hardly think that modern feminists are engaging in the types of militant tactics that were part of some of those struggles. We are apparently engaging in the mortal sin of ‘vitriolic rhetoric.’ I am on board with toning down certain parts of the rhetoric because it makes some people feel bad to the point of suicidal tendencies, but I’m not on board with condemning the voices of women who are crying out in pain because we are actually suffering, a lot, a lot more than most men I’ve ever talked to realize. I don’t really care about condemning other feminists for the same reason I don’t care to condemn the protesters in Ferguson. The people condemning the legitimate rage of people who are treated like shit at every imaginable juncture and then shot and left in the street to die , are the people who have not let the pain of black people in America permeate them to a level where they understand to a small degree what is happening. Men who are condemning the rage of feminists are men who have not fully understood the collective pain of women in our society, and I’ll go back to my original comment where I asked Scott to listen, listen, and listen some more.

    I was given sympathy for my instance of workplace harassment that led to the ruining of my health and career, but men listening to that seemed to think it was an isolated incident and it was colouring my perceptions. Well, that is in a context of a lifetime or subtle sexism, everyday indignities and harassment, and assault. And I’m a pretty ‘privileged’ white woman. Yet I’ve had to deal with boys trying to hurt me physically for playing a male-dominated sport, and if that failed they’d tell me to suck their dick. I had to go through a school system that told me girls weren’t good at math and science, like literally the teacher said this to me. I was told I was a tomboy or ‘like a boy’ for doing those things and how dare I act like a boy, and shamed and ridiculed, and then I was threatened not to perform a sport ‘like a girl’ (i.e. badly). When I ventured out of my small town off into the world I found much more heartache. Having boys who I’d patiently explained physics problems to be singled out for special encouragement to go to grad school, so they are now completing PhDs while until very recently it never occurred to me that this was a remote possibility for me, because no one ever suggested that it in fact was. When I did announce plans to attend grad school, I was shamed for that too. Why didn’t I have babies and a family like a real woman should, didn’t I know my ovaries would shrivel up soon. Then navigating that whole situation of grad school or the workplace when if you do actually want to have a family you will be structurally penalized for it in a way that men obviously aren’t. Then if you point out any of this stuff, you are accused of making things up and misperceiving reality.

    But then there is the sexual trauma part of all this. Getting my ass slapped by the VP of a large investment bank, and when I complained, loudly, I was asked to leave the private party because he was paying for it, didn’t I know, and how could I embarass him and be so ungrateful! Then there’s the man who grabbed my breast and twisted it in a bar so hard that it left a bruise, as a ‘joke’, and when I reported this and had him escorted out of the bar I was surrounded by his friends who told me I was a crazy bitch and couldn’t I take a joke. Turns out he had been doing that to women in that bar all night, and I was the first person who had said anything. Then there was the man who I met on an online dating site who was a postdoctoral student in chemistry (he was, I googled him first) who I went on several dates with. He was perfectly charming and polite, but I had a bad feeling and cut things off. A few months later I talked myself into believing that I was just being paranoid, and texted him. Guess who replied to my text: his wife! Oh and then there was the guy who befriended me over the course of a year or so, and eventually went on a date with that turned into a sexual encounter. I later found out that he had completely fabricated his whole identity, that he had a criminal past, and so on. When I tried to report this as an assault or sexual coercion, I was told that it was a terrible thing but doesn’t meet the legal definition of assault, no matter how traumatized this left me (I spent a night in the hospital with anxiety attack because I thought he was going to kill me for reporting him to police).

    Then there is the time a man followed me and demanded he give me a ride (this has happened multiple times), the man who exposed himself to me at the park and another on the bus. This is just me, though. What about my female friends? Well, there’s my friend who got gang raped in the military and then had to go AWOL to a civilian hospital to even get medical care, where it was found she’d been drugged. The men in charge of her told her she must have drugged herself, ‘recreationally’, and then had group sex that left her covered in blood and bruises and then regretted her bad decisions and tried to frame the men. She eventually went a bit crazy and was discharged and didn’t receive any benefits and struggled with PTSD for the past decade. I’ve been asked to condemn her ‘feminist vitriol’ by dozens of people, and yet I refuse. What she needs is a goddman hug and some justice. And I’ve watched her bravery as she’s struggled to see the humanity of the men who raped her and forgive them, despite their never having apologized or maybe even know they did anything very wrong. I mean, they and the all the other men there can’t all be sociopaths. Well maybe the military is a bad example. But a similar situation happened to me (not as physically violent, but the details eerily similar) in the context of an organization that works on humanitarian causes and is run by shy male engineers. See the institutional cover-up of Jian Ghomeshi at the CBC, which didn’t surprise me in the least but shocked an entire nation. Oh then just a few weeks ago my roommate was sharing a cab with a male student at the local university’s business school. On the way home he said ‘I can’t wait for you to suck my dick’ and when she was shocked and said she’d just wanted a ride home, he made the taxi stop in the middle of god knows where at 3am and made her get out. She shrugged this off as a fairly normal encounter. This is why women text each other at the end of the night and say ‘did you make it home safely.’

    There’s my friend whose husband was being abusive to her and she called me to wonder what she should do because she was ashamed and she didn’t want him to kill her or himself if she reported him, or she was afraid he’d be deported and she’d end up homeless, and what should she do. There was the time I scooped up an unconscious bloody woman from the centre of the road where her husband/ father of her child had beaten and left her after she criticized him drinking and going home with sex workers, and my friend drove her to the hospital as she began having seizures in my arms and I was terrified she was going to die. The men who saw this happen wouldn’t talk, and when I went to the police they didn’t care, and then I walked around town for the next few days afraid that the man who did it would come after me so I eventually left town for a few weeks. Then there was my other friend who was raped by a male acquaintance and I sat with her in the hospital and helped her report to police, but because the assault was so traumatic that it led her to have a breakdown, she was considered mentally unstable and the police never even followed up with her. And we agonized over whether to tell the police anyway, because this man was our friend, was part of a group stigmatized and treated unfairly by the criminal justice system, and we women realize the law is a blunt instrument to deal with these things. We just want these things to STOP. And we don’t know how to make it stop. And to be asked to apologize because our efforts to make it stop makes some men feel terribly about themselves is, frankly, a little hard to swallow sometimes. Not to mention that our efforts are generally so enraging to many men that a new round of violent backlash, shaming, and denying our realities ensues.

    There’s the online dating where I state that I’d like to date a man who lists books by female authors as his favourites (because I’d like to date a man who has considered what it is like to be a woman, who respects the opinions and analysis and narratives of women, etc.), and I get dozens of messages from men saying, sheepishly, ‘I’ve just realized I’ve never read a book by a woman, can you recommend one?’ And then dozens of other messages asking me for sex, or telling me ‘you don’t look like a scientist’. And then the nice, heartfelt, genuinely respectful and interesting messages from shy guys who I can’t be bothered to reply to at that point because I’m so exhausted and annoyed by the other messages. And then some of those nice shy guys turn on me and call me a stuck-up entitled bitch for not responding to them, and that is exhausting too. the remaining ACTUAL nice shy guys probably just quietly feel ashamed and wonder what they are doing wrong. Thanks to Scott, I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about those guys. I also don’t have the mental and emotional energy to help them because my main concern at the moment is stopping the constant sexual harassment, assault, and so on. We need the actual really nice shy guys to help us with those other guys, that are ruining it for us all.

    This is by no means a full account of all of the harassment and violence I have myself experienced and witnessed against women in my lifetime. There are the really serious ones that haunt me to this day like seeing those women who were raped and killed in India and then hung from trees for everyone to see. That image kept me awake for weeks. It doesn’t matter that it happened on the other side of the world. Women are being terrorized every day in this country right here. Thousands of aboriginal women and girls right here in my country are missing/ murdered, and on one gives a damn.

    Context is key, and I imagine if men knew the horrors that some women face at the hands of other men, you might all be slightly more generous at hearing and holding space for our anger rather than railing against it (although, yes, I know we all need to do our own healing and approach the work with reasonable attitudes towards others and their potential shortcomings). You might even find, if listened to with ears wide open and the intent to help us solve things, our anger dissolves into grief, and maybe when we can all feel just sad about all of this, it will begin to change.

    I don’t deny the people of Ferguson their righteous anger any more than I deny women their anger, and I won’t condemn either because I find it is beside the point. What needs to be condemned is the injustice that led to the anger. Anger is a natural human emotion to having been brutalized and treated as worth less. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘Riot is the language of the unheard.’ Women and men and anyone at all venting on social media is a new kind of riot, I suppose.

  356. Raven on the Hill Says:

    My, this is a long thread. This is out of my usual ambit—I am mainly a dilettante political science blogger—, but I think I have a few things to say that have not been mentioned before in this discussion.

    The language of “privilege” and “patriarchy” is the specialized language of a discipline you are now being exposed to. it is not to be grasped in a day or even a year. Modern feminists had no way to explain these subjects without writing whole books when they started out; it took decades for enough people to understand enough so that those words could have their feminist and political meanings current meanings. We have now got to the point where “Introductory Feminism” is not a graduate-level course, but it still demands some study. And really, decent relations between the sexes ought to be basics; something that adults model and children start learning from when they are very young. Eventually, maybe.

    If you haven’t already read it, read John Scalzi’s Lowest Difficult Setting. It is a gentle introduction to the problem of privilege. Avoid the comments!

    By your account in comment 171, you had an extreme anxiety disorder as a teenager. Some anxiety about sex and intimacy is normal, especially for teenagers, but yours was extreme. As a sufferer myself, I am sympathetic, but—did any feminists you personally knew make your young life difficult? Boys who do not fit some model of the ideal male are often inordinately shamed, but—were you shamed by feminists? It is more typically by other boys and men, sometimes their fathers, grandfathers, and uncles; the literal patriarchy. Sometimes women and girls of their family pitch in to support the men, but this is not feminism.

    As you say, there is little help for someone in your position. Most teachers of ethics and morals in our society do a thoroughly rotten job with this most important subject. But there was a path out for you, a well-trodden one, with support along the way. For women the path is full of land mines.

    Andrea Dworkin is the scariest widely-known feminist. It is natural that your fears would present her as a “reference feminist,” as it were, but fear is not rational. Dworkin was and is an extremist—an outlier among feminists. If you’d like some better references, look ata the old Usenet soc.feminism FAQ. The references there are still pretty good and put Dworkin back into context. That FAQ, though, has not been updated in over 20 years. Does anyone know a more current bibliography?

    A warning: it seems to me that you have found some allies on the misogynist radical right. They see in you a chance to make points against feminism and prove yet again that they have nothing to answer for in their treatment of women, that they are above criticism and reproach. There is a large overlap between that group and the group that shames nerds. Be careful of being used by people with utmost contempt for you and yours.

  357. Raven on the Hill Says:

    My first comment was about personal issues, though it addressed some broader social issues. This comment contains some general notes about the issues that didn’t seem to fit in the first comment, but seem to me useful to the discussion.

    “Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. (I love that wonderful rhetorical device, “a male friend of mine.” It’s often used by female journalists when they want to say something particularly bitchy but don’t want to be held responsible for it themselves. It also lets people know that you do have male friends, that you aren’t one of those fire-breathing mythical monsters, The Radical Feminists, who walk around with little pairs of scissors and kick men in the shins if they open doors for you. “A male friend of mine” also gives—let us admit it—a certain weight to the opinions expressed.) So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” [you can tell this was written in 1982] “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.—Margaret Atwood, “Writing the Male Character,” 1982.

    Along the same lines, the reason men regard rape as so horrible is that they are afraid of it.

    Men who are violent towards women lack empathy, and are capable of violence directed at men as well as women. If you have adopted misogyny as part of your beliefs, you have killed part of yourself, or perhaps that part never lived.

    It is hard to grasp how routine the harassment of women is in our society if one does not experience it personally. Men who take on female personas on the internet (you probably know) are usually shocked by the harassment; how pervasive it is and how quickly the harassers latch on to someone they think is a vulnerable woman.

    Serial rapists and persistent harassers are not acting out of sexual desire but rather a will to power, and they are, like most criminals, opportunistic rather than selective; choosing the easiest targets. How a woman looks and dresses does not matter to them; that she cannot easily defender herself does. Unfortunately, many people of both sexes still believe that rapists and harassers are expressing sexual desire. This leads people to regard criticism of harassers and rapists as criticism of their own sexuality and to defend harassers and rapists. The criminals know it, too; part of the reason they choose women as their victims is they will be treated sympathetically, while their victims will be blamed.

    There is a curious belief on the part of many men that it is women’s job to educate them in decent behavior towards women and grant absolution to them in their failings of treatment of women. Is it the responsibility of slaves to teach their masters that slavery is wrong? If you have been a sexist jerk or, worse, a harasser or even rapist, your victims are under no obligation to educate you or make you feel better about it. They cannot grant you absolution; you will have to live with yourself and make amends if you so choose. Even if you are a decent man who just wants to know more, women are still under no obligation to educate you. Besides, would most men really rather that most women go around preaching feminism at the drop of a hat?

  358. Anon. Says:

    @pb 343: Okay, I mostly agree with you. Let me say a few things though.

    First of all, it is not clear to me that nerd communities have more sexual harassment than other communities. Now, online communities are always worse for this type of stuff (see, for example, the online feminists attacking Scott), so they are probably not representative. But in terms of offline communities, I really doubt comic-con has more sexual harassment than, say, a hip-hop concert. Do you disagree?

    If we’re going to blame nerds for sexual harassment, it would be nice to at least have some statistics showing that there is more such harassment in nerd communities. There are no such statistics (that I know of). We can go back and forth trading anecdotes, but for example, my SO, who is in STEM, did not encounter any sexism in STEM, but was harassed outside of STEM.

    Now, the problem of creeps is difficult to solve. We both agree that creep-shaming has bad side-effects, and we both agree that better solutions are needed. One nice thing to note is that the prevalence of rape has gone way down in recent years, so things seem to be getting better. It should obviously be every man’s responsibility not to stalk/harass anyone and not to tolerate anyone who does.

  359. Eduardo M Says:

    Scott, I would like to recommend a book I think you would like. It’s Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.

    It’s about what you are already trying to do, and doing well, but he will teach you some things about doing it even better.

  360. anon Says:

    Something I think this discussion might benefit from: the theory that

    nerds are individuals who take everything too literally and to logical extremes.

    In LessWrong, there’s a post called Reason as memetic immune disorder. tl;dr cultures have grown up alongside their respective religions and have built immunity to their most absurd ideas. E.g. traditional sects of Christianity do not actually follow any of the horrible rules in Leviticus. But when religious memes infect an individual who lacks the appropriate cultural antibodies (compartmentalization), logic & reason dictate that this new convert follow all the memes to their most extreme logical conclusions. This might explain religious fundamentalists such as middle eastern terrorists.

    I have mixed feelings about it. The theory sounded coherent enough when I first encountered it, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. On the other hand, it seems like Michael Vassar [0] and Robin Hanson have independently generated similar theories. So while I don’t believe this paints a perfectly accurate picture of nerds, I think they’re on to something.

    Currently, I have a vague cluster of intuitions that:
    1. nerds optimize for PvE over PvP;
    2. nerds focus on verbal over non-verbal;
    3. nerds value internal consistency over common sense;
    4. nerds prefer sequence thinking over cluster thinking;
    5. nerds prefer System 2 over System 1.

    (meta comment: Why does this implementation of markdown not include ordered lists?)

    I think the MBTI may be a good starting point at shedding insight into the mind of a nerd. Of the 40% who answered the MBTI item of LessWrong’s 2012 Census (60% skipped this item), 34.5% were INTJ and 30.3% were INTP. In other words, INT* types compose (an estimated) 64.8% of LW’s demographic. That’s only two types out of MBTI’s sixteen types. Additionally, I vaguely recall some forum where INTP’S and INTJ’s were flaming each other over which had the highest IQ of any MBTI (I can’t find the appropriate citation at the moment).

    Why do I mention any of this?

    I think this may prove a useful insight while discussing policy.

    Given the above, I think it’s reasonable to say that Scott Aaronson (as a nerd) held a vulnerable disposition towards extremist material (I know the feel, I have explored plenty an ideological rabbit-hole). So yes, he was overly sensitive to his environment. On the other hand, I don’t know how such a malignant contingent of feminists came to be so significant in the first place.

    It seems to me that many of the reforms concerning gender relations (can we ban all mentions of “patriarchy” at least temporarily? Lets replace the symbol with the substance) primarily derive from feminism. It also seems that feminism, as a historically young ideology, is not entirely coherent. So yeah, I expect sects of feminism to go overboard. This ought to be minimized – but on the whole, I consider it inevitable.

    A quick detour: Scott Alexander has written a popular post called All Debates are Bravery Debates. tl;dr people have wildly different life experiences. Therefore, people with opposite dispostions often need opposite advice. This, again, poses a difficult policy decision for reconciling nerds with feminism. Additionally, women are attractive to different things. As Eliezer said,

    … nerds want clear instructions for how to do things. If no clear instructions are available, this needs to be indicated in large red letters. I also suspect that most nerds may just not believe it, when it is set side by side next to all the literature telling them what women want – but if they remember your advice, at least that might make them less bitter after their first failure. (Don’t know about their twentieth failure, though, they might still get pretty bitter by then.)

    Schools excel at dispensing blanket statements. Schools excel at dispensing clear, universal advice to a diverse audience. Schools are a terrible place to educate students about a topic as subtle and contradictory as romance. What schools can do is immunize kids (nerds, wink wink) against winding, tortuous, ideological rabbit-holes. But additionally,

    I think if nerds want constructive dating advice, it will have to come from within their own subculture. And it has! Is it any wonder that Redpill and Pickup Artistry exist? No, I am not advocating for either of these. From what I’ve seen, they’re misogynistic and toxic. But I must admit that they satisfy a niche, and that their misogyny appears proportionate to the amount of invective spewing from the malignant feminists. I think it was Von Neumann who said something like, “The answer includes not only a single solution, but the set of all possible solutions.” [1] What I’m saying is whatever the best solution to nerds’ romance problems is, I predict it will look something like Redpill/PUA minus the misogyny.

    [0] comment section of Reason as memetic immune disorder

    [1] I think it was somewhere in The Library of Economics and Liberty, but I can’t find the essay I read it in. 🙁

  361. anon Says:

    @Kev #345

    I also refuse to condemn Ms Marcotte. I’m sorry, but at least in her fisking, she actually provided quotes. The other Scott A. who everyone here seems to be falling over themselves to praise, just had straw man after straw man (“feminists say this” – yeah? Prove it.) And was just totally anti-feminist.


    I think you’re being uncharitable. Alexander’s entire post involved a deconstruction of Laurie Penny’s article. He starts off every other section by blockquoting it. And he chose to focus on Penny’s article because it was so humane compared to the median. How do you miss something like that? Here’s the blockquote data by section.

    I. aaronson; amanda marcotte; laurie penny;
    II. penny;
    III. penny;
    V. penny;
    VI. penny; julia serano;
    VII. Pete Warden (nerd culture must die)
    X. Penny
    XII. Penny
    XIII. Penny

    And this doesn’t even begin to cover his hyperlinks to feminists, such as the patriarchy causes male rape and the entitlement and misogyny of nerd culture and accosted by a mouth breathing trogdolyte and Lierre Keith tells the New Yorker (about lesbians). (All hyperlink titles were copied as stated from SCC rather than their actual titles, for the convenience of cross referencing.)

  362. Av Shrikumar Says:

    Sorry to jump in randomly; I originally didn’t plan on commenting because I didn’t think Prof Aaronson would be that interested in what a random female STEM student has to say, but I see he’s been very conscientious about reading individual comments and that there’s been a lack of clear support from the female-bodied feminist crowd, so just for the record:

    Comment #171 was a revelation for me. It isn’t an exaggeration to say I spent the rest of the day reeling from shock, because it’s not every day I’m made aware of an extremely pervasive and harmful problem that affects people I care about and which I have, in the past, perpetuated. I think #171 did more to make me a better, more compassionate human being than the sum total of all the other writing on feminism/racism I’ve read in my short life. I wrote a long facebook post about it that prompted some rather good discussion; since I know you’ve likely spent an unhealthy amount of time on this already, I’ve picked out two points that I hope say something that hasn’t already been said 100 times (full thread is here https://www.facebook.com/ashrikumar/posts/10155016843240607):

    ‘Using blanket terms like “male privilege” or “heterosexual privilege” belies the reality that these privileges are context dependent, and prevents people from discussing those cases when the privilege is in the opposite direction. My favourite example is the “lesbian privilege” I enjoyed from not having to worry about unintentionally flirting with male coworkers in male dominated contexts – heck, even the privilege of being (mostly?) free from the ‘male gaze’ I hear my straight female friends complain about so often. In fact, one of my biggest reasons not to transition (I experience mild gender dysphoria) is a fear of taking on *precisely* the negative privilege that caused Aaronson to crave chemical castration; I have many reasons to get nervous about telling a girl I like her, but as a woman, the fear of perpetuating a sexist environment is not one of them. (It sounds like that shouldn’t be a big deal, but because this is an issue I care deeply about, the fear of being part of the problem – or even of being perceived as such – would be enough to make me chicken out of telling a girl a like her; couple with the social pressure on men to make the first move, and you have a rather hapless dating experience)’

    ‘Privilege seems to have interaction terms. One possible objection to Aaronson’s POV is that maybe he’s just conflating “shy” negative privilege with context-dependent male negative privilege – but the two are actually inseparable. The context-dependent negative privilege Aaronson experienced seems like it exclusively manifests for shy heterosexual men, because (a) shy people have little exposure to healthy expressions of sexual interest, and (b) heterosexual men face societal pressure to ‘make the first move’. While life is tough for shy heterosexual females in different ways, the fear of dying alone because they can’t make the first move is, I think, less acute. I am not qualified to say whether shy heterosexual males have it harder, on the whole, compared to other oppressed groups, but I do feel that the very fact that they are shy is the reason the issue has gone unmentioned for so long. No one has trouble acknowledging the undue societal pressure on men to pay for dates – those men have no trouble speaking up about their brushes with negative privilege – but what about the men who can’t even get dates? They are so easily overlooked. I therefore feel that acknowledging this particular class, and recognising it as distinct from ‘males’ as a whole, would both benefit internet discourse and be a huge psychological relief for them.’

  363. Distribution Says:

    Amy, just to clarify, neither I or the study I mentioned suggest that sexual assault/harassment training is useless. What those studies found is that a program focusing on a female survivor’s story doesn’t cause lasting attitude change, and not just in fraternity men. Quoting the study:

    According to Schewe’s review, ten studies have been published that assess the effects of an empathy-based intervention on men’s attitudes toward rape and/or their behavioral intent to rape. All of the studies depicting a man as a survivor significantly improved men’s attitudes toward rape and/or lowered their behavioral intent to rape. In stark contrast, all of the studies evaluating the impact of a program whose primary intervention method was to depict a female survivor increased men’s rape myth acceptance; one such program even increased men’s reported likelihood of sexual aggression.

    The reasoning the authors give:

    The theoretical framework used for the present study was belief system theory. The core concept of belief system theory is that in order to produce lasting attitude and behavior change, programmatic interventions must be designed to maintain people’s existing self-conceptions. Many interventions begin with the implicit or explicit assumption that their male program participants are potential rapists; thus, according to belief system theory, the probability of success of such programs is low. Research has shown that men, regardless of whether they have committed sexual assault, do not perceive themselves to be potential rapists. The program evaluated in the present study attempts to influence men by appealing to beliefs they have about being potential helpers.

    Like you say, there is nothing inherently wrong with giving out definitions of sexual assault. But as this study makes clear, many workshops in this field address men as potential rapists. The authors claim that this approach does not work.

    Their approach is to tell a story of male-on-male rape, and then discuss male-on-female rape. This approach addresses men in the audience as potential victims or helpers of female victims, not as potential perpetrators. Is it any surprise that this approach works better?

  364. Anon. Says:

    Kev 345:

    “I also refuse to condemn Ms Marcotte. I’m sorry, but at least in her fisking, she actually provided quotes. The other Scott A. who everyone here seems to be falling over themselves to praise, just had straw man after straw man (“feminists say this” – yeah? Prove it.) And was just totally anti-feminist.”

    Kev, Marcotte did some serious damage. First, her attack on Scott is vile and disgusting, and probably contributed a lot to making Scott’s life worse these past few days. But more importantly, in the grand scheme of things, Marcotte’s piece did a terrible dis-service to feminism, because she’s considered a mainstream feminist and because any reasonable person would not want to be affiliated with anything so vile. Your refusal to condemn her astounds me. Thanks for your honesty though.

    As for the other Scott: he keeps on linking to feminists he disagrees with! Please give some examples of these strawmen you say he uses. You provided no examples, so I think your anti-other-Scott argument is itself a strawman.

  365. Mark Says:

    Kev #345

    I’m a bit baffled – is this http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/01/01/untitled/ the post you are referring to? It seems to me like Scott Alexander quotes quite liberally and fairly (mainly from the Penny article), and also provides numerous examples of the kinds of things he’s reacting against in the form of links and embedded images. But perhaps you’re referring to a different post of his?

    As for Marcotte, it’s really disappointing that you’re willing to stand by it. Yes, she provides quotes, but only to rewrite (“translate”) each quote in the least charitable and most awful interpretation possible.

    I’d like to propose a ground rule for debates on these topics, which is that you don’t get to tell other people that what they “actually” said. This seems reasonable. So for instance, if someone says “I was so ashamed of my sexuality as an adolescent that I contemplated suicide”, no one gets to say “what you’re really saying is that you think women are just walking vaginas.” Because that’s pretty much the level of deliberate, mean-spirited misinterpretation going on here.

    (Let me be clear that I think its perfectly fine to say “you say X, but your actions seem to imply Y” or “you say X, but this kind of statement is often understood to mean Y, consider changing your language”. What I’m angry about is when people say “you say X, but I know you really mean exact-opposite-of-X”)

    Feminists rightly demand that others play by this rule. Many internet misogynists say things like “You say that you are merely against structural oppression and the patriarchy, but it is clear that what you really believe is that men should be subjugated and oppressed by women”, and they are rightly lambasted or ignored for saying such things. Yet, it seems to be relatively rare for feminists to take other feminists (such as Marcotte) to task for the equally horrific misrepresentations of the words of others.

    These kinds of debates are so frustrating to read, because Scott or someone like him will say something humane, sensitive, and *at worst* mildly ignorant of certain feminist theory, and essentially be accused of being a rapist. Then, he’ll say “Let me clear this up: I believe that women are authors of their own stories, that they don’t exist merely to please men, that they are not homogeneous, that they’re not slot machines that ‘pay out’ but only if you say the right things.”

    And what is the response to that? Is it “oh, gee, I guess I misinterpreted what you were saying. I’m really really sorry, since I apparently more or less called you a rapist, which is a horrifying accusation. Here’s what you said that confused me. Maybe if we can come eye-to-eye on this we can both learn how to communicate with each other better?”

    Or do they say “I understand you didn’t mean to imply that you are owed sex by all women. But it seemed to me like statement X was based on just such an assumption. Do you see why I was troubled by your statements?” No, they basically ignore or refute his explicit statement of his beliefs and go on with the character assassination.

    The end result of this is that the large swath of reasonable people who fall somewhere in the middle (like me) learn that the right thing to do is to literally never, ever put anything in writing about this topic on the internet, because it seems clear that there is absolutely no hope of one’s views receiving a fair hearing. At best, you’ll be called a privileged mansplainer – at worst, a rapist.

  366. Interested reader Says:

    Kev, #345: Your position is untenable. Marcott quotes Scott Aaronson and then assumes the least charitable interpretation of what he wrote that can be connected, however tenuously, to the text. And then she’s utterly cruel about it. Scott dredged up a deeply personal and painful set of experiences to explain why he feels the way he does about modern feminism, and Marcott is mocking him for it. I don’t understand how you can consider her behaviour anything but unethical. Frankly, it seems to correspond rather well to the people who respond to rape claims by saying “Are you /sure/ it was rape?” and then coming up with the least-rapey interpretation of what was said. For an example, see the thread #171 was in.

    Scott Alexander’s piece, on the other hand, quotes Marcott, Laurie Penny, has a string of nerd-shaming memes pulled from Tumblr and made/distributed by feminists, links to several different articles about how much nerds suck from different feminist sources, etc. etc. I don’t think you can find a single example of Other Scott saying X is a belief held by a subset of feminists that isn’t substantiated in his entire article.

    Not only that, but Scott isn’t deliberately singling out someone who talked about a painful and formative experience and cruelly mocking them, and that’s kind of the part that isn’t okay.

    I’m not sure what feminism was like historically, I’m not old enough to know what it was like before universal suffrage, no-fault divorce, getting women accepted in higher education and the workplace, all the big and important wins. But from my point of view, modern feminism has just become a Cause that’s not terribly well directed. I can get behind a good Cause as much as anyone, but feminism has been in Cause-mode for long enough that the innocents crushed underfoot are pretty obvious – TERFs used to be mainstream feminists, for example, and the modern witch-hunting behaviour that’s only sometimes well-aimed.

    I’d agree entirely with the Platonic ideal of feminism. I think the Platonic Feminist wants cultural gender roles gone, wants to take the socially-approved dating mechanisms somewhere safer for everyone involved, wants rape to be as rare as possible and punished when it occurs, wants people to be free to just be whoever they damn well please without societal mockery. All of that sounds great to me.

    But when I look at modern feminism in practice, I see an edifice that refuses to self-correct. It’s a Cause, great and noble, and so people seem to feel like criticisms of any small thing cloaked under it is a criticism of the whole project. I’ve had discussions on feminism where some minor disagreement about something led to me being declared a misogynistic racist who doesn’t deserve to talk, being dogpiled on by three different people hurling insults. And it wasn’t even a big disagreement – it was something they might even have agreed with, expressed another way. I’m sure a number of people here have had similar experiences. That effect tends to extend to a lack of critical gaze inside the movement, too, so feminist writers can’t be criticised too harshly unless they’re part of a designated outgroup (like TERFs). Result: People like Amanda Marcott and whoever wrote the Wonkster piece linked earlier in this thread can be as uncharitable with their interpretations as they like, as cruel in their denunciations of people who mostly agree with their fundamental position as they like, and people like you will just shrug their shoulders and say “Yeah, well, this piece by somebody else criticizing some stuff in feminism makes me uncomfortable, so it must be wrong somehow”.

    That isn’t healthy, and it doesn’t serve the cause of Platonic feminism.

  367. anon Says:

    Over in the SSC, Sarah made a comment which I think was also insightful. For the sake of brevity, here’s the meat & potatoes.

    When someone puts forward a moral obligation towards extreme self-sacrifice, it does *serious* harm to people who are trying very hard to be good. It does no harm at all to assholes who don’t care about being good.

    The idea of “microaggressions” is actually a necessary concept for a phenomenon that exists.

    But altruism in general is *not fucking safe* unless you put guardrails around it.

    Putting up guard rails is akin to what I suggested earlier about schools warning against rabbit-holes. Asking for self-sacrifice (even implicitly) to the benefit of an outgroup sets up a weird incentive gradient.

    Feminists are trying to obtain new ethical norms. They are not only helping those in their own ingroup, but enforcing norms on those in their outgroups. The global acceptance of their ideals is inherent to their cause.

    I don’t know what branch of philosophy this idea falls under, but morality seems to have something to do with the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In other words, morality solves coordination problems. In these situations, both parties (from the God’s Eye view) have something to gain from arriving at the Pareto Optimum.

    What do nerds gain from helping feminists? (I know these groups overlap. But in the ancestral environment, political overlap was rare and this affects humanity’s politics. So let’s pretend the coalitions don’t overlap for simplicity.) Nerds helping feminists is practically charity. The only way nerds might gain is through:

    1. pats on the back (serious question: why are the privileged not given metaphorical cookies as they step toward enlightenment? This seems odd to me from a incentive standpoint. It makes the world a better place for practically zero cost);

    2. warm fuzzies for doing the right thing;
    3. living in a universe where they would be treated equally had they counterfactually been born as women (imagine a male nerd trading places with an oppressed middle eastern female).

    Okay. What do nerds have to lose? Growing into a 40 year old virgin (remember, nerds take things to extremes).

    Part of my philosophy includes math::constructivism. So I cast suspicion when I receive a list only detailing things I’m not supposed to do (perhaps constructivism is related to nerdism). Aaronson’s anti-rape class in highschool detailed all the ways he might overstep his bounds, but never explained what type of behaviors where acceptable. Even if there exists no set of “behaviors which universally appeal to women (or men)”, there should at least be some set of “behaviors which are universally not creepy”. I’m unsure whether the task of “defining acceptable behaviors” would better be assumed by the nerd community or the feminist community.

    In conclusion, I think the way forward looks something like “guard rails (against self-immolation) + list of acceptable behaviors”.

  368. anon Says:

    Earlier in Comment #347, I should have posted more regarding Eliezer’s full quote. It was in response to Jade, and makes more sense with context. Apologies.

    The truth is that there are no steps X Y Z that will make any woman fall in love with you (or at least put out). Women are not interchangeable. Each one has a different set of memories/biases/subconscious images that cause her to be attracted to one person and not another. And the idea that there should be an X Y Z that will cause any woman to be attracted to you (unless there’s something wrong with HER of course) is just plain insulting.

    Jade, these words of yours should be printed on glossy paper and handed out to every male nerd entering high school.

    Because nerds want clear instructions for how to do things. If no clear instructions are available, this needs to be indicated in large red letters. I also suspect that most nerds may just not believe it, when it is set side by side next to all the literature telling them what women want – but if they remember your advice, at least that might make them less bitter after their first failure. (Don’t know about their twentieth failure, though, they might still get pretty bitter by then.)

  369. anon Says:

    Amy, that post about society literature was excellent.

  370. anon Says:

    Clarification of Comment #347 and Comment #349:

    What I’m saying is whatever the best solution to nerds’ romance problems is, I predict it will look something like Redpill/PUA minus the misogyny.

    In conclusion, I think the way forward looks something like “guard rails (against self-immolation) + list of acceptable behaviors”.

    What I meant was highschool sex-ed and anti-rape classes should include “guard rails aginst immolation and a general list examples of acceptable behaviors”. And simultaneously, hopefully nerds can broadcast to their own subculture how to be more confident & hygenic without resorting to negging, etc. It’s a pincer maneuver.

  371. anon Says:

    When I first noticed your post regarding comment 171, I was irritated and disappointed to find that the Millennial Outrage Pornographers had at last penetrated my favorite online safe-space. I took up reading Shtetl-Optimized and other technical blogs as part of a resolution to consume healthy alternatives; at UCSB, my mental environment was saturated with toxic stuff about privilege, entitlement, rape culture, et cetera. Sickeningly, I carried that background noise with me when I left!

    But when I read comment 171, I was floored. And thrilled. It aligned, I am sure I am not the first to say, in striking detail with my own story. I cannot imagine a better move than your disclosing those experiences (and with such eloquence!), because people are not aware of the plight of the male nerd. We hear plenty about the evils of sexual harassment and air-brushed magazine covers, but discussion of such male anguish is only ever personal and private, in my experience. Women are surprised to learn that I lived in fear, that I regarded my every erection as an affront to womankind, and that I struggled mightily to shed the “dark nasty boy who’ll always be miserable because he’s just like his father!”-identity learned in my teens.

    The bright side of all this is that our contempt and our compassion for men are moving through a peak and a trough, respectively. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I have the impression that many of my female peers scoff as much as I do at the misapplication of ideas about privilege, entitlement and patriarchy.

    Thank you for baring your soul!

  372. Raven on the Hill Says:

    anon@367: “I don’t know what branch of philosophy this idea falls under…” Ethical philosophy, of course. For once a simple answer.

    “What do nerds gain from helping feminists?”

    Space to grow. Patriarchy (or kyriarchy, to use the newer, more general term) makes little space for men who do not fit its models of masculinity; they are often considered below women by the most brutal male supremacists. Nerds, therefore are often victims of patriarchy. So nerds stand to benefit from releasing the grip of rigid standards of masculine behavior.

  373. Target Says:

    Doubtless what I’m about to say will not be popular. In fact, I’m sure you’re gotten plenty of comments from Conservatives, or the “Manosphere,” or various other sources that would not be popular in this context.

    I’m a male nerd. I wasn’t particularly shy in general, but in the romantic arena, I was too shy to have a girlfriend until I was 22.

    The difference between us was that I didn’t believe in Feminism, and still don’t. Am I privileged by who I am, despite starting out broke, homeless, and taking a one-way greyhound ride to a distant college where I had to live on eggs and bread until the army started paying my way? Yeah, I’m privileged. If I were a black lesbian, I’d still be privileged by virtue of my amazing brainpower, which allows me to live within a budget, plan for the future, and work from a desk. I’m pretty sure yall Academics feel the same way, or should.

    I focused on the pursuit of knowledge. If women noticed me, maybe they thought I was a creepy nerd. A good looking, well-maintained, creepy nerd.

    Shortly before graduation, I decided, hey, it’s about time to settle down. I found a hot young virgin with no ambitions except to pop out babies, and we lived happily ever after. (If you judge her reproductive and lifestyle choices, you’re a hateful bigot.)

    The moral of the story (no one cares about my life) is this: A malignant strain of Feminist ideas actively harmed Mr. Aaronson and caused him mental distress. My skeptical use of various empirically successful behavioral models (game theory, pseudo-scientific evolutionary psychology, traditional ethical philosophies) which conflict with most Feminist ideas worked out great. Not to say my life has been all unicorns pooping skittles, but from a practical standpoint, all this debate about privilege and voices and rights is pretty irrelevant. The patriarchy ain’t listening. Human nature will inevitably reassert itself. You can mansplain all you want, and it’s just going to lead to more whining because the critics of Comment 171 have already stated their position: they don’t believe that male nerds have it that bad. Unless you have some kind of physical evidence and an objective scale of how much being a nerd sucks, they’re not going to agree with you or accept your privileged condescension. Of course there has been much well-reasoned, courteous, enlightening discussion, which must be acknowledged

    A more practical ideology is to teach men not to rape, and teach women to aim for center mass.

  374. Rob McMillin Says:

    Prof. Aaronson — just wanted to pass on that I felt you have been treated cruelly, based on both the Amanda Marcotte/Laurie Penny pieces I have read.

  375. Atheist Says:

    When a social justice movement builds up a vast edifice of “theory”, it commits political suicide.

  376. anon Says:

    @Raven on the Hill Comment #356

    There is a curious belief on the part of many men that it is women’s job to educate them in decent behavior towards women and grant absolution to them in their failings of treatment of women.

    Actually, I always felt it odd how some feminists (especially the malignant) so casually blow them off. I know women (and men) have jobs, lives, kids, etc. I respect that. I also understand that men have a responsibility towards leading ethical lives. But learning feminism is not as easy a matter as deciding to be a nicer person. So as a collective movement, I figured that preaching to the unenlightened sort of came with the territory. Like, isn’t part of the movement supposed to spread itself to as many people as possible? Or is modern feminism just a book club where you all congratulate each other over your lack of privilege.

    Like I said in an earlier comment, think about the incentives. Think about the memetics. Reading is a cost. (Maybe even a privilege not everyone can afford?) That includes feminist literature. Gwern wrote an essay which argued (among other things) to read only the best books. Our lives are finite. The sun will be but a husk by the time one might have read every last book. Given this perspective, that educating one’s self involves donating towards feminism several hours of one’s life that they will never get back, do you think this mindset will bring about the change you really want?

    This is what I was talking about when I mentioned self-immolation and counter-productive incentive gradients. Those ignorant, yet most eager to support your cause will either turn away or suffer a burden. They could have spent their time learning to be a doctor, or reading Shakespeare, or sleeping, or at the gym. The cost of reading represents negative fitness. Those who do read the literature will lose out over time to those who don’t, even if those who do read the literature never resort to castration or suicide.

    Do you see why I’m surprised when feminists sometimes brush off requests with “not my problem”? Do you see why I’d expect feminists as a whole to bend over backward to make feminism more easily accessible to the masses? I don’t expect each and every feminists to go all Frederick Douglass, but I would have expected more enthusiasm at requests for explanation rather than a passing of the buck. I’m not saying its your responsibility. But I am saying it’s in your interests.

  377. Anon. Says:

    (Note: there are other people commenting under the name ‘anon’. I’m the one commenting under “Anon.’, with capital ‘A’ and a period.)

    Chelsey #355: That’s horrible. I’m so sorry! My heart aches to read your tales of oppression. I’m sorry for what you and your friends had to go through. I, too, have no idea how to make all this violence against women stop, despite the fact that it seems to me to be an extremely important humanitarian crisis.

    Let me gently suggest a few things that may help communicate the terrible pain and suffering that women experience to the rest of the world.

    First, please let’s avoid references to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. Palestinians really should condemn Hamas, because it explicitly calls for genocide. The last thing we want is to compare oppressed women to Hamas.

    Second, Marcotte’s piece is disgusting. Truly. You didn’t read it, so you don’t know. (She did not describe any oppression she endured, by the way; she only mocked and jeered). Her piece is causing real harm – real oppression – to a real person this very moment: Scott Aaronson. This is not on the same level as the stuff you endured, but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate it. Let’s try to condemn all hateful acts, against both women and men.

    Finally, if our goal is to advance feminism, we need to distance ourselves from rhetoric like Marcotte’s, which may cause reasonable people to think we gain pleasure from shaming men and have no other motive for supporting feminism.

  378. Raven on the Hill Says:

    anon, #376: oh, there are good reasons for outreach—that’s what I’m doing here, after all—but not everyone wants to do it and not everyone is good at it. Even people who want to do it have limits on their time. Nonetheless, the movement does have its teachers. What do you think Amy is doing, after all? Or Laurie Penny? I also did link, a while back, to the old soc.feminism FAQ; it’s still a pretty good place to start, if somewhat dated.

    Feminism is not an organized movement. There is no Matriarch who sets policy. In the USA there is no feminist polity party of any note, though in Europe some parties include feminism in their platforms. Most feminists feel, with some justice, that hierarchical organization as a patriarchal practice with many negatives, and so prefer to be a bit disorganized. So there is no marketing department, as it were.

    Teaching the basics is also difficult; not just time- consuming but often heart-breaking and sometimes physically risky. The heartbreaks aren’t always obvious; part of the reason that our host is getting sympathy and support is exactly because things went badly wrong for him. But feminists get tired of, as it were, teaching feminism 101. It takes a long time for the ideas to sink in. There are many difficult students: men who feel it is their right to demand teaching of women and men who are there to argue rather than learn. Some men are dangers to their teachers as well; in fact some of the most successful teachers I can think of have gotten credible death threats.

    So that’s why men get brush-offs. Not always easy to deal with, I know.

  379. Chelsey Says:

    This has been an endlessly interesting discussion/ experiment. From the point of view of actually changing things for the better, I’ve learned that sharing emotional, vulnerable, painful stories has widely mixed results. That using shame as a tactic has widely mixed results. That making rational, logical, reasonable arguments has widely mixed results. That trying to offer empathy and have a dialogue has widely mixed results. That reading piles of books and having a fair grasp of literature / feminist theory has widely mixed results. That explaining things from a starting point of your understanding of power structures will make no sense to someone who things they don’t exist and theres two equal sides. That traumatic life experiences both make it difficult to wisely engage in such discussions, but will also be unfairly used to dismiss a person’s point of view as ‘personal.’ That people reading the exact same thing may interpret it almost exactly oppositely, and therefore saying or writing anything at all has widely mixed results. That social change is very, very difficult.

    One last question: how would one go about condemning Amanda marcotte or other feminists who are ‘doing it wrong’ without initiating a fresh round of shaming? And how could we break this endless cycle?

    To go back to the original topic … I think it would be interesting for people of all gender identities and sexual orientations to sit down together and talk about some better approaches to addressing harassment and assault, both at the prevention stage and the reporting/ investigation stage. Having been in that experience myself, i would have preferred a more transformative justice approach.

    Back to boring life things…

  380. Raven on the Hill Says:

    anon, #376: A final thought on this: many men still feel they have unlimited call on women’s time. So sometimes the brush-off is the first lesson.

  381. Amy Says:

    Chelsey #355: THANK YOU.

    Distribution #363: I got what you (and the study) were saying. To be honest, while it’s an interesting study, if you look at the results they’re still not so hot. Better to do something than nothing, but after a certain point one wonders if the universities aren’t getting it right by disbanding the fraternities altogether.

    The bigger problem, it seems to me, is the difficulty in holding these thoughts in the head simultaneously:

    1. Things like Chelsey and others have described really do happen routinely.
    2. As a human being, you may well be capable of these things.
    3. You are not evil incarnate. But, if you’re so inclined, don’t do those things.

    And again I’ll contrast this with the training parents go through. All parents in the US whose children are born in hospitals are taught not to shake babies out of frustration with crying, not to put the baby carrier in the front seat of the car, not to leave the infant in the car, not do all sorts of dangerous things. We’re all given lots of information about what to do instead, whom to call, etc. I’ve talked to a lot of mothers, and never once heard one say she felt like the hospital was accusing her of being a future child-abuser or, god forbid, child-murderer. (We may overestimate how hard it’ll be to avoid abusing the children — as it happened, it never once occurred to me to react to my daughter’s crying by…well, doing anything but comforting her. She was a baby. Babies cry. But I’d been prepared to be driven to the edge by it because the pamphlet said look out. After a few weeks I forgot about the pamphlet.)

    So my question is: what is it, in some subset of the teen-boy population, that’s convincing them that the very existence of their maleness is an offense? I find, by the way, that these are *predictably* the guys who’ll turn on feminists later in life and I finally see what Scott was getting at with wanting a medal. He’s right, most of the guys who have this teenage story wind up running smack into some hardcore academic feminist roundhousing later on and bam, the story’s “I suffered for you and tried to live by your rules and you betrayed me.”

    And those of us standing off on the sidelines and watching these guys have our heads in our hands and are saying oh my god, he’s missed the point at every turn. Because first he genuinely believes his very maleness is an offense, and then he goes and tries having an amiable debate with talking-points types who aren’t too bright, and then he runs into careerists who’re made mostly of knives and tries to have an actual debate, with a head that’s frankly still full of sexist notions, and does nothing but step in it deeper and deeper.

    And I see it. You get an earnest, bright kid who’s reading on his own, and who’s he going to talk to? I mean what sensible person wants to talk about Dworkin or Mary Daly or whoever in the first place? What would be brilliant is if every university housed some easygoing and humane older woman who could listen to kids like this, young men and women both, and talk a little theory, and assure them that they’re okay and that she was pretty sure they weren’t about to head out on some mad raping spree, and that it was okay to be attracted to women, and gently point out where they had some really quite sexist notions running, and send them back out into the world with permission not to think of themselves so poorly.

    And I’ll interrupt that to say this.

    I’ve finally gone back to Scott Alexander’s piece, which is much easier to read on this screen, and I am so unbelievably angry that I think I’d better stop for now. Because I am once again reminded that I’m arguing with rich kids. Rich kids who have never known, and will never know, what it means to have your adult life be a domino setup that’s controlled by things like “you need $5 gas to get to work but you won’t get paid until Thursday and your card is maxed and you’re going to be fired because you can’t get to work, and then you might be able to stay in your apartment for a while because you’re hard to evict, but you won’t be able to pay the daycare and your kid will lose her daycare spot and then you won’t be able to jobhunt too well because your kid has no daycare.” And who have *no idea* what it means when someone who lives like that tries to climb out of the pit by taking classes she hasn’t got time for, or even by teaching adjunct classes that are a hamster wheel to nowhere but the end of the semester, and is suddenly confronted with a horny, flirtatious professor (manager, VP from another division, random rich dude, other authority figure) who, you betcha, wants something from her. Nor how many, many, many women live this way and have these stories to tell.

    Despite what Other Scott may think, I certainly am talking about economic entitlement and blindness to the experience of people who do not have, and have no reasonable prospect of, financial stability, who do not benefit from structural economic biases, and who have to get through life, sometimes while raising children, anyway — and who get told, “Go to STEM! It’s your own damn fault if you study something that doesn’t pay!” No understanding of the fragility of their lives (which really, frankly — here, you want physical urgency, a painful need? Here’s physical urgency: you can’t afford your asthma medication, much less an apartment with better air quality. You have trouble breathing. Your life revolves around being in situations where you can breathe). You put that together with some serious obliviousness to the effects of various kinds of sexual advances on someone who’s already stretched so thin you can see through her, and think about the meaning of an institution supportive of her right to go through school without worrying about these things, and I think I had better stop talking about that because I am just too angry.

    Anyway. As far as “nerd-shaming” goes, some sort of “nerds are gross and let’s have fun kicking them for it” thing, of course that’s repugnant and wrong wherever it exists. And of course it’s wrong to swing at people for other people’s wrongdoing. But. I am thinking you guys had better run the separation and look at what part really is “ew a nerd” and what part is not. Because I’m thinking that the pushback you’re getting here is less about “ew a nerd” than it is about anger that isn’t necessarily about you, Scott, but is about more significant problems that many men in STEM continue to perpetuate, either through obliviousness or the sheer delight of being able to play, belatedly, a dating game, or (much less often, I think/hope) actual misogyny.

  382. Dan Says:


    I’m a regular reader of your blog and an admirer of your academic work. So, as someone with a tremendous amount of respect for you, respect that hasn’t diminished one iota since comment-gate, I ask you: Consider that Amanda Marcotte might be right.

    No, she didn’t treat you with dignity or a hint of empathy. And the caricature of your thinking was vicious, and not very funny. I am sorry you had to endure that. But substantively, buried beneath the hathos, she actually *did* make a couple of good points.

    You wrote, “I believe that “the problem of the nerdy heterosexual male” is surely one of the worst social problems today that you can’t even acknowledge as being a problem.” Scott, with affection: This is exponentially stupider than thinking NP-complete problems can be solved efficiently with dish soap! (For large n!)

    Some thoughts:

    – Regarding the problem of the nerd: Our kingdom was built on a foundation of really awesome intellectual pursuits, that grew, in turn, from pulling a winning ticket in the genetic lottery. Reading this, I’m not sure you’re not pulling an Alan Sokal style hoax.

    – The “nerd” as uber-nebbish formula on offer here isn’t working for me: smart ∧ ¬ cool ∧ ¬ attractive. As a self-identified nerd, I’d like to keep Feynman and Einstein in the fold and they’re both way too good looking and charming.

    – Soul-crushing social and sexual anxieties afflict plenty of dumb men and dumb women too.

    – Soul-crushing social and sexual anxieties are not neglected concerns. From Freud to Dawkins to Roth, it’s safe to say that those are not problems that want for attention.

    – Finally, more than a few commenters here seem to be far, far more worried about the tyranny of feminist blogosphere or the rhetorical excesses of the academic left than actual sexism. That’s solid prima facie evidence that you’re a dick.

    So enough about the human condition already. Natural selection didn’t conspire to make us happy! And it shouldn’t register as a news flash that even really, really lucky people are miserable too.

    By contrast, there is a really interesting issue to discuss that keeps getting buried: the gender imbalance in STEM. That’s a legitimate social problem. And any regular reader of this blog should appreciate the cost: Think of how many more smart women could be working on P!=NP or on large-scale quantum computing!

    So my preference, FWIW, is way less personal story-telling and more theories of root causes and proposed solutions.

    Best regards,


  383. Chelsey Says:

    @Anon I wasn’t comparing oppressed women to Hamas, i was comparing them to Palestinians. I was making imperfect but deliberate analogies, to make the point that if we don’t have a decent, critical analysis of power and oppression then we make a huge mistake in focusing on the legitimate rage that people feel as being the thing that is morally reprehensible (and I think the Israel-Palestine conflict is a pretty important thing to talk about, like whether BDS or academic boycott of Israel is a good thing to support or is ineffective ‘shaming’ strategy. Scott, i would love to hear your thoughts on this). I was trying to write from the point of view of that rage and anguish, and illustrate why people in that situation may be reticent to condemn-to understand violence/ violent rhetoric and put it in context, not to make any final judgments about it at the moment. i honestly don’t know if that is the right decision (to not condemn), but it helps to first try to critically understand, I think, how humans react when brutalized, and how cycles of conflict get entrenched. Like I said above I’m not convinced a fresh round of condemning/shaming is the thing we need. Right now these ideas are in dynamic tension in my brain and I have yet to resolve the paradoxes.

  384. Amy Says:

    (tiredly) I’m sorry about the vehemence. And I see it all the time in academia, not just in STEM: well-set-up faculty imagining their students are as secure as they are, and advising them or treating them in ways that can do real harm. It isn’t universal by any means (and some of the students are much better-off than are faculty); some faculty are extremely sensitive to students in fragile situations, as well as to the possibility that the situation exists. But when things go wrong it’s the kids left holding the bag. I think it’s extremely important to keep in mind the students’ position (and here I’m back to the “cool to date students or no” question) and the nature of the teacher/mentor role. I’m trying to imagine the circumstances under which I’d date a student — any student, regardless of his age — and there aren’t any.

    I understand that this is not what Scott Alexander was talking about, and frankly Laurie’s business about “knowing them feels” rubbed me the wrong way — #171 discussed some very specific and individual “feels”, and no, I doubt very much that she or anyone else shares them specifically. (No more than I believe my parallel rejection of a high-school date offer from a gorgeous and popular athlete — what could he want with me? Had to be a trick — lets me know what Other Scott went through in middle school.) But the more I sit with it the more I suspect Other Scott’s got the wrong end of the stick. Maybe there’s some strand of Highschool Never Ends Nerd Persecution in feminism I’d been unaware of. There’s certainly plenty of flippancy and childish writing around generally. But this is the first I’ve heard of feminists having it in for the Midvale crowd on the basis of “shy, awkward, dreadful fashion sense, will talk your ear off about something you still have no interest in.”

  385. tb Says:

    Amy #381:

    I’ve either deeply misunderstood you, or deeply misunderstood Scott Alexander. What part of his essay evidences a lack of understanding of the plight of poor women?

  386. J Says:

    @Amy, I don’t disagree with you about male nerds and rich kids it’s seem obvious to me that to the extent nerds are disadvantaged in this way it doesn’t have an affect on economics and it seems clear to me that, as a general rule, economic/force related effects of oppression are an absolutely tremendous issue which is, in general far more important. That is a super important observation to make and I’m super grateful that you’ve made it because I wasn’t paying attention to it.

    With that said I want to say that, just as a lot of the Feminism which gets interpreted toxicly about men is not about them, the Feminism which Alexander complains about is not about you. I think a lot of other Scott’s anger is coming from people who he reads and interacts with, people whom are invariably well off or at least middle class spending a tremendous amount of time complaining about misogyny which isn’t primarily economically or physically force based (say, shaming Miley cyrus about her sexuality, or trying to determine whether the criticism of Lena Dunham is warranted or misogynistic) and then reacting with outrage and mockery and general badfaith whenever somebody discusses a way which social gender roles negatively affect men.

    This absolutely is not economic oppression of men, it’s completely unreasonable to compare it to that, but it’s reasonable to get upset at these people (who usually self identify as feminist) for their hypocrisy and to call them out when they say that if you want to stop the patriarchy from having negative affects on men you need to support their feminism or else you are a horrible person.

    I don’t think he made the division between the people he’s critiquing and people like you adequately explained in his article. I think it’s totally fair to critique him for that, but the reason that generally unsexist people are propping up his piece is because he articulates this critique very well, is making this critique as a major issue a function of economic privilege, to some extent yes, but many people discussing feminism on the internet are focusing on misogyny which does not have a large class based component and doesn’t tend to (except very indirectly) exacerbate them.

  387. Devos Kerry Says:

    @Chelsey #383,
    you continue to make false allegations and show apparent ignorance of the matters, while posting ludicrous supposed similarities between a society (not Hammas, but the whole Palestinian society, as a collective civilization) that is extremely patriarchal and women and gay oppressive, to women in the West whom you contend suffer from structural discrimination.

    Your assumption about the “oppression” of Palestinians as a cause for violence is now also proved to be wrong, since the Mideast is currently full of violence with millions of deaths in all sorts of global and local conflicts, proving almost to a scientific precision that the “oppression of Palestinians” plays practically no role in the motivations of radical groups and individuals who are committing political, religious and national acts of terror.

    I also reject you contention that there is any “oppression of Palestinians” at all, but this is another matter that is completely off-topic, which has no bearing at all on the discussion of women rights, sexual harassment, etc.

  388. Hi Says:

    Scott suggested I post my story here, and he is right that I should. Reading his story and the stories provided lots of solace to me, hopefully mine will do the same to others.

    When I was 15 or 16 my mother took me out to my favorite restaurant. After we ordered she looked at me and said, “I want you to know it is okay if your are gay.” I remember wanting so badly to say, “yes, I am”. That that was why I expressed no interest in girls. But it wasn’t. It was simply the fear of doing something wrong. Of hurting some one. I didn’t know how to express my sexuality in a way that wouldn’t make others uncomfortable, so instead I chose not to.

    But even that was to shameful to admit to my mother. Instead I lied and told her that kids my age didn’t date, we just hung out in groups.

    To be clear, in retrospect it is easy to see that as a teen I was wrong. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t know how so correctly, but rather for some reason thought that any expression sexuality was unwelcome.

    I don’t know how or why I internalized this view. It wasn’t like I was raised in some deeply conservative culture or something. The church I went to taught us that every religion was true, which quickly resulted in my atheism. I went to one of the most liberal, and stellar school districts in the US, for which I am thankful for. We had multiple years of legit sex ed. Openly gay students and teachers. Etc…

    And before you jump to conclusions by the absence of mention of my father, he simply died young. I don’t attribute that as the cause. The lack of a male role model certainly didn’t help though.

    So yeah, I don’t know where it came from. All I know is that it hurt me. For ~8 years I simply decided to not make any advances towards women. I decided I had more important things to focus on. School. My job. I am fortunate to have had them. That’s not to say it was easy. I was depressed, lonely, I didn’t graduate. My dream was to go into physics, and I doubt that will happen now, my life took a different turn.

    In the many hours I spent alone at the computer I got very good at programming, and for the past 3 years have been working at a small software company (and for the ongoing stem discussion we are 3 men and 4 women).

    Its not where I want to be. I still wish I could be studying physics, but I am happier now. My life is better. For the past few months I have actually liked and have been confidant in myself. Being valued by other humans (my co-workers) does that to a person.

    I can still count my friends on one hand, and I still haven’t been in a deep relationship with anyone, but I finally feel that interacting with women is something I am ready to do.

    Finally, I know I am going to get a lot of flak for this, and I am tempted not to write it because I feel the hostility people have to this will make them dismiss what I wrote earlier. It was reading /r/theredpill that made me come to terms with my (cis,het,male) sexuality. That it was normal and healthy and not something to be stressed over and constantly worried about.

    And yea, I don’t agree with the rest of it, but that was not a message I found elsewhere.

    Again, I want to thank Scott and the others who shared their stories. Reading them, knowing that others have gone through similar to what I have, it was very cathartic. Thank you.

  389. another anon Says:

    Some points as someone watching this conversation:

    1) “Nerds” is an ill-defined term. In the context of this discussion I view it as a person with deficiencies in some social skills. That person may or may not be male, may or may not be smart or good at math, etc…

    2) Depending on the extent of the issue, such people endure very real suffering, sometimes driven to suicide. If nothing else, to the extent that Scott’s comment has given hope to some such people, it was worth writing.

    3) Mocking such suffering should be completely unacceptable, and reputable publication venues should not tolerate journalists working for them who do so.

    4) While most of the challenges that women faced have more to do with their particular circumstances and in particular socio-economic advantages, there are some issues that are essentially universal to all women, chiefly sexual harrasment. The U.S. (and some other countries as well) is eons ahead in this area than many developing countries (e.g., India) but there’s still more to go.

    5) Clearly Scott’s comments resonated with many self-identified nerds who feel that certain feminist messages have caused them harm. The reflexive response by many (most?) feminists seems to be that because these people are male, and at least some of them white and/or upper-middle class, then they have no right to complain. I find this response off-putting, especially since I believe many of those “nerds” making these complaints suffer from some social skill deficiency or disorder. I care very little this suffering is “structural” or “personal”.

    6) I am also not at all sure that the messages most important to feminist causes, and in particular those that impact the most vulnerable of women, are those that cause the most offence. In fact, more than fighting sexual harrasment, I see in writing such as Marcotte’s the joy of bullying a vulnerable person under the guise of moral superiority.

    7) None of this means that we shouldn’t make more efforts to include women in STEM fields. From my 15 years experience of working as a researcher and discussions with male and female colleagues, sexual harrasment exists in STEM, but it is very unclear if its proportion is larger or smaller than other fields which have much more balanced gender ratios. It is an issue that needs to be addressed but is not the main reason for lack of female representation in these areas.

  390. anon Says:

    @Raven on the Hill Comment #367

    “I don’t know what branch of philosophy this idea falls under…” Ethical philosophy, of course. For once a simple answer.

    I thought that much was rather… obvious. But then I looked it up, and it turns out to have its origins in mathematics. I bet Scott’s giggling at both of us right now.

    Nerds, therefore are often victims of patriarchy. So nerds stand to benefit from releasing the grip of rigid standards of masculine behavior.

    “Patriarchy”. I’d rather we not use that word. Regardless of its specific usage by the benign feminists, it smuggles all sorts of slippery connotations into the discussion. If you mean “male privilege” which implies an advantage over women, I don’t see how male privilege did Scott (or nerds) any favors in this context. If you mean “traditional gender roles”, fine. I concede. But “releasing from rigid standards” sounds wierdly opposite to feminism’s usual goal of enforcing boundries such that women don’t get raped by misogynists.

    Here’s where I think we’re getting mixed up. Patriarchy as traditional gender roles usually confers men advantages. These advantages are known as male privilege. Male priviledge often makes men feel free to violate women. But in Scott’s situation, patriarchy as traditional gender roles dealt him a disadvantage. The patriarchy constricted Scott from interacting with women.

    Unfortunately, patriarchy’s implicit connotations of male privilege (it’s in the etymology!) directly contradicts any possibility of a male disadvantage. So when Scott read things like “patriarchy is bad”, he probably reasoned along feminism’s traditional lines of “I need less freedom to violate” rather than “I need more freedom to interact with women on my own terms”. And this is the part where I mention All Debates are Bravery Debates again. Shy nerds are not the majority, and will need advice different than “smash the patriarchy!”

    tl;dr “smashing the patriarchy” usually means discouraging advances rather than encouraging advances.

    I propose we scrap the word “patriarchy”. I’d prefer we talk in terms of traditional gender relations (until a better phrase comes along), male privilege (which did not help Scott’s romantic prospects during school, but obviously helped him in other areas of life), and personal boundries (which shy nerds need separate advice on). No, I don’t think a bigger tent such as “kyriarchy” will resolve an oxymoron begging for the nuance of an umbrella. Besides, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

    But yes, I agree that we can ditch the rigid standards of masculine behavior.

    @Raven on the Hill Comment #381

    A final thought on this: many men still feel they have unlimited call on women’s time.

    Huh, I would have thought the men who were asking for this sort of thing would have been more patient. I think I’ve been projecting past malignancy onto you unfairly. I will concede on this point also.

    Incidentally. Now that we’re talking about the mathematics of gender, a question just occurred to me. The Gale-Shapley algorithm guarantees optimality for the men (suitors), right? But everything I’ve read about romance says that the woman usually initiates the courtship by signaling interest before the man begins pursuit. Is there some variation of the algorithm which exploits a similar mechanism? Just throwing it out there.

    @Amy Comment #382

    So my question is: what is it, in some subset of the teen-boy population, that’s convincing them that the very existence of their maleness is an offense?

    I stand by my earlier theory. I think the double meaning of the word “patriarchy” is a good case study of how nerds take everything too literally, with neither context nor a grain of salt. It’s the same thing that makes some of us think communism is still viable and “how are you” is a request for our entire mental log and “The Taming of the Shrew, WTF is this stuff??”.

  391. Gus Gutoski Says:

    Hi Scott. Just a quick note to add my name to the list of those whose life experience has resonated with the content of your recent posts. You and Scott Alexander have already sucked up my weekly allotment of blog time. I don’t know how you can do this.

  392. clayton Says:

    Since I’ve thanked Scott for sharing the pain behind “comment 171,” it’s only right to go ahead and thank Chelsey for #355 and Amy for #381. Perhaps these comments are less personal, but one might observe they come from the same important urge to convey the depths of human pain.

  393. Maznakoff Says:

    Scott, first I must applaud you for your courage. I would probably tend to keep such thing to myself. And I do, other similar or different things.
    Second, here is my observation re feminism. Like other -isms, it begun as a good idea (feelings, needs, rights, preferences and aspirations of women should not be taken lightly, or more lightly than those of men), but has grown into a monster, sort of like marxism and other -isms. It has created plenty of jobs, careers, publishing industry, fields of research etc – and suddenly there is this tremendous power, especially in academia, looking how to feed and perpetuate itself and constantly looking for the justification of its existence. In the process, it is more than happy to crush careers and destroy lives of people, who would be normally just warned, ridiculed, slapped in the face or just left alone. It has the capacity to destroy lives of innocent young insecure shy people like in your case (yours was nearly destroyed or what else you would call chemical castration which is not without permanent side effects). Or old crazy or weird people who should be ridiculed at maximum, like this poor old professor (I don’t know much about the case, but short of trying to rape her, what could he have done so terrible in his age..probably just fell in love in a clumsy way). This obsession with things like “microaggressions” is just ridiculous. Microagressions are a way how mammals deal with each other, and guys face them every day just as well, from both men and women. In the time when there are millions of sexual slaves all over the world and many of them both in your and my country, millions of cases of rape, sexually motivated murders, honorable killings, genital mutilation, someone cares about “microagressions”? The Western world is insane in this regard and feminism is part of a problem, not a solution.
    We had a case of a guy who used to take female assistants abroad with him and practically turning them into sexual slaves. Some might have commited suicide. He is now behind bars, for what is practically life sentence. The police put him there, not feminism.

  394. Bill Says:

    Re: #382, #388, #389

    Nerd Heterosexuality

    Yes, many men (including me) struggled with their heterosexuality. If one is foolish/sensitive enough to listen to society’s messages, this doesn’t help. Public declaration of one’s past or present problems will not elicit much sympathy. Nobody likes a male “loser”. Even “social justice warriors” dislike them.

    Dan (#382): Richard Feynman was never a nerd, he was the coolest dude in town. This much is clear from “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman.”

    Gender Imbalance

    For decades we have been trying to encourage more women into STEM careers. Yet a survey of men on a STEM course examined their Myers-Briggs personality types, and found that they are different from the general population. Furthermore, the personality types that are typical of scientists, male or female, are much more common among men than among women.

    It is simply untrue that women who choose to study literature in place of chemical engineering are suffering from a lack of encouragement, institutional sexism, or some other vice of the “patriarchy”.

    I was talking last year to a thoughtful and intelligent female scientist who has spent two decades in a professional role trying to encourage girls into science degrees, and privately she agreed with me. She told me that her work had made no difference whatsoever to the gender ratio on science courses. This kind of knowledge is presumably an open secret among the non-ideologically-committed who have spent a number of years in her profession, and yet no one is willing to go public and contradict the prevailing feminist narrative: this would be professional suicide. Tell me again, who is in the role of Kyriarch around here?

  395. Anon. Says:

    Chelsey 383, legitimate rage IS morally reprehensible if it causes damage to innocent people. No amount of abuse-victimhood allows a person to morally attack an innocent third party. This is very important, or else we’d get an endless cycle of attacks. Please think about it; I suspect you are tempted to defend malicious acts if you can sympathize with the perpetrators, which is a very bad thing.

  396. Anon. Says:

    I found the following comment on Other Scott’s blog very interesting:


    Here’s a quote from it:

    “Being told as a high-scrupulosity person that you’re entitled does in fact feel a whole lot like being told as an anorexic person that you’re fat. That’s not an insensitive metaphor; it’s an entirely, painfully, accurate one. (I am anorexic and high-scrupulosity (took the Giving What We Can pledge for 30%) and so I fucking get to say this, if anyone does.) In both cases there’s the concrete knowledge that it’s false, and the intense emotional experience of ‘but it MIGHT BE TRUE’ and also ‘THE FACT SOMEONE THINKS IT’S TRUE IS SUFFICIENT’. If you wouldn’t do the second one but you’d do the first one, please please please listen: you are hurting people just as badly.”

  397. Bill Says:

    Re #153, #356, John Scalzi’s article.

    The lowest difficulty setting is not “Straight White Male”, but “Upper Middle Class, Wealthy, Intelligent”. This is also the most fortunate, or “privileged” group.

    Who is the more privileged? The upper middle class, wealthy, intelligent feminist Laurie Penny, or a straight white male selected at random from the studio audience of the Jerry Springer Show? Scalzi believes it is the latter. I believe my lying eyes.

    The conversation about privilege is mostly about projection and distraction. It is tough for women who were born with a silver spoon, feel uncomfortable about their privilege, but most certainly want to keep it. They deal with their personal problem by projecting it onto other people.

  398. Jen Says:

    anon #390: “Unfortunately, patriarchy’s implicit connotations of male privilege (it’s in the etymology!) directly contradicts any possibility of a male disadvantage.”

    No. This is a profound mis-statement. Please google “patriarchy hurts everyone,” to see a more accurate representation of mainstream feminist thinking.

    Bill #394: you seem to imply that there are biological factors at play in women not entering STEM fields — if that were true you would see the same percentages worldwide, where in fact in non-Western countries such as India and China, the percentage of women studying these fields is much greater. The “personality type” “science” you also proves nothing, as “personality types” are IMHO just as likely to be the product of socialization as any innate biological differences between the sexes.

  399. Karmakin Says:

    When we’re talking about the balance between the genders, there’s more options than 100-0, 50/50 and 0-100. Speaking for myself, I think women get the short end of the stick, based upon how we commonly “keep score” in our society about 60% of the time. This just just a raw estimate, just to give some form of quantification of where I stand. (Note that I wouldn’t be shocked if in 10 years I think that it’s 60-40 the other way, and no, I don’t think that’s the end of the world, although it may mean we’re dealing with some different problems, probably involving rethinking primary schooling techniques)

    So I lean Feminist. I’m also a guy who, as I said above, I’m in the group in discussion here. So I would say that I’m in that 40%. I would classify myself as a not really gender conforming male in a lot of ways.

    I think that there’s one part of the other Scott’s post that he focuses on a few times but kinda slips away, but I think should have gotten more focus. And that’s the notion of the one-directional gender power dynamics as being the core of this. That’s actually where I see both Penny’s and Marcotte’s articles coming from. One is a soft defense of one-directional gender power dynamics and the other is a full-throated defense of one-directional power dynamics.

    I reject one-directional gender power dynamics entirely. Honestly, I simply think it doesn’t work when you’re ever applying it to real life. There’s simply too many variables, and even with the variables, there are situations where men are advantaged and there are situations where women are advantaged.

    And I think the “nerd-shamiing” to a degree comes from that. We complicate the narrative.

    I suspect that is what is internalized there. And it’s not like there’s nothing in the wider culture to back it up..the idea that boys are gross and disgusting is a pretty common little kid trope. Even though I was always non-conforming, still, things that were linked to conventional masculinity are bad and I better not do them.

    Where I link it to feminism isn’t in creating this memespace, I don’t think it did, but I do think there are chunks of feminist theory and culture that exploit that memespace. Men are gross and dumb and only want sex and all that.

    And we have a situation where we’re more often raising our boys to NOT be that. And yet we have all this assumption that every male is still like this.

    The one-directional gender power dynamics is the expression of that exploitation. And it’s deeply problematic, not just for men, but also for women, as it reinforces stereotypes about women as well. (And for every positive stereotypes, in a different situation it’s a negative one, and the other way around).

    Truth is, if we’re going to get rid of these gender roles and stereotypes, it’s going to require everybody rolling up the sleeves and rethinking the way they think and act, and not just the people in the out-group.

  400. Vijay D'Silva Says:

    Janet #347: I agree with your #347 but see below for a response to your analogy in #346.

    This comment addresses various calls to speak against what has been perceived as anti-nerd rhetoric as well as the calls to denounce what has been perceived as anti-feminist rhetoric. This comment is based on the following personal example.

    I spent time in Zurich at a time when a specific political party (the SVP) had a xenophobic advertising campaign. Seeing posters like this one around the city created a deep feeling of discomfort within me. I knew at a factual level that the party did not have majority of the national vote and also that the campaign claimed to be about foreigners committing crimes and so, in principle were not aimed at me. For people such as myself, a strong negative message sticks much stronger than contrary positive or rational messages. Some foreigners I knew interpreted the silence of the Swiss people we interacted with on a daily basis about this matter as silent approval. I myself did not think so, but did feel that the local people didn’t care enough to even express disapproval. I also couldn’t shake the irrational feeling that the campaign was targetting me personally. What helped me eventually feel more at ease was a strong denouncement by two close friends that such advertising was completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated at all.

    It seems to me that the current situation has comparable aspects. There are people who identify with aspects of Scott Aaronson’s comment #171 and feel attacked by pieces that bash him. There are people who identify with or support various types of feminism and feel attacked or criticized by other articles. In both cases, I’m using “attacked” in a broad sense, not just for the feeling of being personally attacked. There is a rational process available in both cases to counter these feelings. To extend the comment of Janet #346, one should be able to realise that the comments of certain, self-identifying feminists do not represent the whole group. By a symmetric process, one could argue that criticisms or demonization of feminist actions or thought do not represent the opinions of all self-identifying nerds (or men). These rational processes are not easy to trigger or complete, and even then, do not necessarily override the emotional feelings that one is being deliberately misunderstood, attacked or disenfranchised in the dialogue.

    Hearing a member of a group that you feel attacked by denounce the messages that you feel are attacking you provides strong emotional counterweights that assist in forming a more balanced view of the situation.

    In fact, it seems to me that the personal vs. structural perspective (Amy #327) extends to deuteragonists and other supporting characters in a story. Meaning, I can search high and low to discover and provide support to the protagonists in their struggle but it may well be that social constraints will determine if my support is of any use (which is a distinct point from Amy’s original one about social constraints determining how the protagonist fares).

    Please note that I’m not making a quantitative comparison or equating the situations of different groups here but only saying that there are qualitatively similar aspects to all sides of the dialogue.

  401. Kev Says:

    Curious that about 5 comments in a row attack me for not condemning Marcotte while saying I was unfair to Scott A…

    Why do I say Scott A’s post is a bunch of strawmen? Well, let’s go with point 2. He quotes Penny, and then proceeds to say “yeah, but I’ve heard feminists call men this, and here are pictures making fun of guys in fedoras”. Links to guys being called those names, so that the reader can get context? Nah, no need for that. Links to where those pictures came from? They seem to be referencing the same man on many of the cartoons, so some context would be nice. Nope, not gonna get it. So, I as the reader only know that there is *some* tumblr that is making fun of *one* particular man for the most part, and I’m left with no background on why. I should just assume that this proves his point that FEMINISM = BAD.

    In section III, he goes on to say that Penny is making it a “My suffering is worse than yours”, when her point was simple – men and women with anxiety issues have it rough growing up, feminism is not to blame. But instead, Scott A starts laying out his strawmen, that if only these women asked some guys out they’d get laid. Cool story. But, as this Scott, and the other Scott have both said – they were too terrified to ask anyone out. And had they, they’d have had some success. The other Scott even admits to having been asked out but running away in fear. So Scott A. and his “nuh-uh, we have it worse, we can’t even get a date” is an obvious fabrication. Yes, both sets of shy nerds can get a date if they ask. That is not what Scott or Penny were discussing.

    He then goes on in the same section to show that 50% of people who ask out someone of the opposite gender get a favourable response…which he drops to 10% because…reasons, and then says “too hard, what a market failure”. He then lists a bunch of links to articles about nerd culture. 3 out of 4 links go to page not found. So I trust that these totally made his point, that feminists are saying all nerds are bad, and therefore, profit!

    I could continue, but honestly, this Scott writes a lot of words, almost all in bad faith, and i have no more need to pollute my eyes with it. Say what you will about Ms Marcotte, she took actual quotes and gave her interpretation on what they meant. Did I agree with all of them? No. But I did agree with many. And I have no need to condemn her, as that is her opinion, and she is free to make it as stridently as she wants.

    Instead of demanding we vilify her, how about you do the work and show where she is wrong.

  402. Vijay D'Silva Says:

    Lou Scheffer #338: Thank you for all your comments, especially this one, which triggered a thought process that will continue for a while and will be what I anticipate I can act best upon from everything I’ve come across in these two threads.

    I once attended a Q&A with Ursula Le Guinn in which she said one of her strongest impressions of her childhood is that it was incredibly grounded. My mental image of a grounded childhood includes an environment in which one can identify and reject, or better still, successfully navigate through hype and manipulation from various signals, not just formal, well written, but authoritative and destructive treatises.

    I don’t have much to say except that it is a hard problem and I think it would be valuable to communicate the same to the child too. There is also a very strong social and cultural dimension to this. The social and cultural background that I expect will be behind the answers to your question on this thread will be different from those of my childhood and will also be different from those of the next generation in my family.

  403. Scott Says:

    To commenters #60, #102, #112, #125, #126, #168, #196, #218, #235, #247, #276, #291, #300, #306, #326, #337, #339, #362, #371, #388, probably others who I forgot: thanks so much for the words of support. They mean a lot to me.

  404. Scott Says:

    John Doe #35:

      Scott, do you think women are oppressed in Western society? Do you believe that you live in a patriarchy? Do you think men are privileged and women are underprivileged?

    I think that there remains genuine misogyny in Western society, which is pernicious and should be fought whenever it occurs. We obviously don’t live in a patriarchy in the sense that (say) Gaza or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia are patriarchies, but if the term “patriarchy” is construed more broadly, to mean any society with male/female gender roles that are messed up in some way, then of course we do live in one. So, like many other questions that people obsess over (“what’s really a quantum computer?”), I regard it as ultimately a not-very-interesting quibble over definitions, rather than actual facts of reality.

  405. Mark Says:

    Regarding the necessity of creep-shaming: Its fine to say “creeps are engaging in deeply harmful behavior and should be shamed for it.” I agree. But who actually gets shamed? People who look a certain way. Here’s a representative example from foreveralonefedoras: http://foreveralonefedoras.tumblr.com/image/101845395503

    This person isn’t being shamed because of something misogynistic, entitled, or sexist that he said or did. He’s being shamed because he’s fat and dresses oddly. And this is tolerated, and even celebrated.

  406. Scott Says:

    Philip White #152:

      I am curious: What do you think about shy nerdy men who may not be elite mathematicians who get shamed for trying to resolve hard open math problems?

    While my experience might be limited, I’ve never seen any shaming of anyone, even amateurs, for trying to solve famous open math problems. On the contrary, most of us try to be encouraging—sure, the person will probably fail, but they’ll learn something and maybe even discover something new along the way. If there’s any “shaming,” I’d say it’s for falsely claiming to have solved the problems, loudly and repeatedly, and not listening to criticism of the solutions.

  407. Raven on the Hill Says:

    Amy, #381: “So my question is: what is it, in some subset of the teen-boy population, that’s convincing them that the very existence of their maleness is an offense?”

    I believe it has to do with the widespread belief that sexual harassment and rape are expressions of sexual desire. This is deeply ingrained in our culture, and it is going to take a long time to sand out.

    It is also The Patriarchy™. Young men who don’t fit the social idea of masculinity are shamed, both directly and indirectly.

    It is also Christian sexual teachings, which pervade English-speaking cultures, and regard any expression of sexuality and indeed any concern with the body as somehow sinful.

    There are probably other factors; most behavior is over-determined.

    #384: “Maybe there’s some strand of Highschool Never Ends Nerd Persecution in feminism I’d been unaware of.”

    Not much among academic feminists, I think, but in popular feminism, yes, it exists. US culture as a whole has a bad case of High School Never Ends, and women do participate. I think Amanda Marcotte’s comments have a streak of this. She makes some good points, but she’s also just being mean.

    anon, #390: “But in Scott’s situation, patriarchy as traditional gender roles dealt him a disadvantage.”

    This is a very feminist point; feminists have long said that most men are losers in patriarchal games. I think this is correct; if the world is organized into a hierarchy of men, there can only be a few men at the top.

    The system allowed him to establish himself, however, and after he had established himself the system worked in his favor. (Apologies, Scott, for referring to you in the third person.) Women in comparable situations have a much harder row to hoe. We are only a generation from the time when the work of women scientists was credited to men and their names buried.

    Maznakoff, #393: “it begun as a good idea […] but has grown into a monster,”

    We live in a society where women’s rights no longer need defending? Really?

    Bill, #394: “It is simply untrue that women who choose to study literature in place of chemical engineering are suffering from a lack of encouragement, institutional sexism, or some other vice of the ‘patriarchy.'”

    The biography of academic, writer, critic, and feminist Joanna Russ says you are wrong: she was specifically discouraged from going into engineering and became a sharp-tongued English professor instead. (And it is partly due to her essay, “How to Suppress Women’s Writing” that I can write this.) She is far from the only one: pioneering astrophysicist Antonia Maury, whose painstaking observational work and analysis provided the basis for Hertzsprung and Russell’s famous diagram, still has not gotten the credit she deserves as a founder of the discipline.

  408. Mark Says:

    Kev #401 “Curious that about 5 comments in a row attack me for not condemning Marcotte while saying I was unfair to Scott A…”

    Are you using the presence of disagreement with your views as further evidence that you’re right? I’m not sure if that’s what you’re doing, but your sentence comes of as “looks like I struck a nerve, I must be onto something.”

  409. Scott Says:

    wolfgang #195:

      As for more practical issues: Would it not be an interesting CS project to develop a protocol (and real application) that allows shy nerds to date without initially revealing their identity?

    Maybe that’s Tinder? (I wouldn’t really know; it was after my time.)

    To clarify, the issue is not interacting with the opposite sex in general, but something much more specific: namely, expressing sexual interest before you know that it’s going to be reciprocated. And yes, you’re right that that problem could have technological solutions! E.g., websites that only reveal a match after both parties have expressed interest; even cryptographic zero-knowledge protocols. You could even get fancier, with each person registering on a website the maximum level of intimacy that they want with everyone else of their acquaintance (from “nothing” to “get to know them better over coffee” to “sex right now”), and then the website telling both people whatever is the minimum of their desired intimacy levels. (Uh-oh, have I just given away the next billion-dollar social app idea? 😉 ) Of course, there needs to be a critical mass of people using such a service before it makes any difference.

  410. Vijay D'Silva Says:

    Chelsey: Let me apologise in advance for discussing you in the third person in this comment, and even more for the comment itself, which intrudes upon your personal experience in a way I have tried to avoid. However, I feel there is something relevant that has to be said.

    Amy #348: I can only speak for myself. Chelsey (in #189) explicitly said that she suffered greatly, that participating in this discussion was tricky given her experiences, and that she was trying not to let her personal experiences interfere with her politics. She also requested Scott Aaronson (in #192) for a private conversation of the topic.

    After reading that, the only response I personally find appropriate is to express sympathy and then engage with her intellectually in a way that I can hope is sensitive, given this information. Most importantly, asking anything about her personal experiences seems to me to violate what I read as her desire for privacy and would also make it actively more difficult to separate the personal and intellectual, hence actively disrespect her desire to do so.

    There are strong personal and cultural protocols that inform how people react to deeply personal information and participants in this thread have diverse backgrounds. There are many cultures in which saying nothing, especially when in doubt about what is appropriate, is better than saying something.

    I’m addressing this part of your comment because I’m not sure why you brought it up. I would not draw any conclusion about people’s silence on this specific point because of the role of cultural factors.

    As for your question in #348 about achieving understanding: I expect that the answers will be different for different people. Off the top of my head, without having thought about this more, one approach might be to create a questionaire that provides insight into how much perspective the person answering has about the life experiences of people different from themselves. Then, one can try to find out about the learning process of people who seem well-informed (with respect to the questionaire). I have no idea what to expect, but this is one possible way to go about it.

    (I request anyone reading this next paragraph to please, please read till the end of the comment and try to interpret what I’m saying in a charitable way before responding.)

    I think that learning about the experiences of other people is essential. A lot of online-writing related to learning about the experience of women contains phrases like “listen, listen, listen.” I do not think this syntactic phrasing is effective because it does not communicate the depth of what “listen” means or even indicate that such depth exists. (I should emphasize that I am not criticizing people who use such phrases or even what they are saying. The message is sound but the phrasing is unfortunate.)

    To learn about someone’s experience I need to hear about it. To do this, several things must fall in place. (1) I must first realise that there are experiences that are different from mine, often dramatically and unimaginably so. (2) I have to be interested to know what those experiences are. (3) I need to be in a situation where that information exists. (4) I have to be able to access that information. If this information is presented via some recorded medium, I have to be able to find it. If I respond best to hearing about this from a person, the situation is more complex. I need to learn how to approach the relevant people, develop a relationship that can lead to communication, develop trust, be able to communicate explicitly or implicitly that I can and will hear what the other person has to say. (5) The information has to be communicated to me in a way that I can understand and will learn from. This applies to both messages communicated via recorded media or personal accounts. If I am given the information in a way that is completely alien to how I use an interpret language, then no amount of well-intentioned attempts on all sides will reach the eventual goal of deep understanding of what it is like for other groups of people.

    This is only the structure of the problem, as I see it. I need to think more about the actual details but I’m hesitant to make recommendations here because I know well that what works for me does not work for a lot of people I know.

  411. Maznakoff Says:

    Raven on the Hill #407

    “We live in a society where women’s rights no longer need defending? Really?”

    I guess they do, but the question is whether the current breed of feminism is the right tool – maybe it already makes more people worse off than better off on balance.
    First of all, though, the rights of women in the rest of the world, outside our (western) society, need defending much much more. I mean much, much, much more. Western (female) feminists should realize that they are among the 1% of most privileged people globally and maybe the energy should be better used on behalf of their much less fortunate sisters in the third world, Russia etc.

  412. Scott Says:

    Chelsey #216:

      Who exactly is valuing this resource, and why are we so collectively socialized to protect the reputations, careers, and great works of powerful men…

    To me, the right tradeoff here seems obvious: destroy the reputations and careers of the “powerful men” if their offenses warrant it, but preserve the great works for posterity (if they’re actually great).

    More generally, it occurs to me that, in both this thread and the Walter Lewin one, many of the opinions people expressed might simply reflect their opinions about a “drier” question, of how highly we should value the production of great work, compared to other things that can make life worth living.

    In other words: if, like Amy seemingly has in various comments, you view academic science as basically a racket for professors to pursue status and well-paid sinecures by outmaneuvering their rivals—well then, of course you’re going to regard the problems of scientists as almost laughably trivial compared to poverty and other more pressing concerns! If, on the other hand, you view scientific discovery as one of the main things that our sorry species does to justify its existence, and as the engine that’s pulled us out of the Dark Ages and done more to alleviate human misery than anything else, then offenses against science and scientists—the trial of Galileo, the execution of Lavoisier, the shooting of Galois, the murders of Jewish mathematicians in the Holocaust and of Soviet biologists under Lysenkoism, the persecution of Alan Turing, the destruction of the library of Alexandria, the loss of Democritus’ and Archimedes’ works—might cause you to burn with rage as hardly anything else does. You might feel like the entire world should be turned upside down to prevent these things from happening. You might say: “if civilization can’t even do right by Galois and Turing, then who can it do right by?” Similar comments, of course, would apply to literature and music and anything else people value. In short, I guess I’m making a falsifiable prediction: that we’d find an almost-perfect correlation between people who sneer at “the so-called ‘suffering’ of privileged rich nerds,” and people with postmodern or radically-skeptical views about the validity and importance of what nerds do.

  413. Autism, Feminism, and Shy Nerdy Men | Intellectualizing Says:

    […] and feminism. Here’s a summary from the Chronicle of Higher Education,  but you might read Scott’s follow-up, Laurie Penny’s article, and this response from Scott Alexander (Scott Alexander is a […]

  414. Scott Says:

    Amy #327: You relate your (interesting) experiences helping women through divorce, but then you draw the conclusion that broad, societal forces are more important than individual circumstances. What’s funny is that I drew a completely different conclusion from the same stories: namely, that our current divorce system sounds horribly screwed up! If the legal system produces results wildly at variance with commonsense moral intuitions about individual cases, then it’s not the moral intuitions I’m interested in changing; it’s the legal system.

  415. Scott Says:

    Amy #155:

      Nor am I hearing about any serious research into feminism to see if maybe some feminist researchers or theorists (actually regarded as feminists) have already addressed your problem in a way that’s appealing to you.

    Amy #237:

      What research have you done in feminist writing/theory (by people actually regarded as feminists) to see if there are existing strands of thought which you feel can address the problems?

    While there might well be others, off the top of my head I can think of three feminists who’ve written things that might help a shy, nerdy teenage heterosexual male (e.g., by making him feel less self-loathing): Camille Paglia, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Daphne Patai. Alas, all three have been denounced by other feminists as “anti-feminists,” which I guess gives some indication of the steepness of the climb ahead.

    (Note: there are also lots of female novelists and other intellectuals who’ve written helpful things—including my favorite contemporary novelist, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. But I don’t think they’d normally be considered part of feminism as a movement.)

  416. John Doe Says:


    Have you seen this, Scott?

  417. Scott Says:

    Mark #365:

      I’d like to propose a ground rule for debates on these topics, which is that you don’t get to tell other people that what they “actually” said. This seems reasonable. So for instance, if someone says “I was so ashamed of my sexuality as an adolescent that I contemplated suicide”, no one gets to say “what you’re really saying is that you think women are just walking vaginas.”

    This is one of my favorite comments in the entire thread.

    Of course, the same principle applies in the other direction: neither I, nor anyone else, gets to tell the gender feminists what they’re “really” saying, and if I don’t know, then I can only err in the direction that gives the least advantage to myself (as indeed I did for many years).

  418. Chelsey Says:

    @Scott#412 I see what you’re saying. You’re talking to a person who has written basically a 15 page love letter on the genius of da Vinci. It is just that I burn with rage just as much for the great works of women that were never even born (or were co-opted by men) because of institutional barriers and societal attitudes, and for the ones that do exist but are widely ignored.

  419. Douglas Knight Says:

    Scott, a very minor point: there is no such thing as “the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.” There are several specific stories about it burning, but they are just myths. The books were probably just lost to long-term neglect, not any specific catastrophe, let alone wholesale vandalism.

  420. Raven on the Hill Says:

    Maznakoff, #407: “First of all, though, the rights of women in the rest of the world, outside our (western) society, need defending much much more.”

    This is not a new criticism, and western feminists do in fact address it: some of the earliest critics of the Taliban in Afghanistan were feminists. The idea of synergies among forms of institutionalized oppression (intersectionality) comes from African-American feminists who realized they had different problems from white, middle-class feminists. But I think you believe that western society is better for women than it is. We have the leaders of one major party defending rapists. It is only a century, more-or-less, that women have had the rights to vote and to own property in their own names in the USA. The idea that both of these rights should be taken away has recently surfaced on right-wing mass-media sources in the USA and intense sexism is a part of the neo-fascist parties that are rising in Western Europe.

    In the high income world we are one step away and a few decades from a social order that oppresses women; there still is plenty of work for Western feminists to do, right at home.

  421. Kev Says:

    Scott….i find it strange that the only feminists who you think help “you” are the feminists who write about how feminists are hurting males, that feminists are the problem, etc.

    Paglia recently (2013) said that men are 100% responsible for any gains women have gotten, that men are and will always be in control while women should be in supporting roles, and she says that feminism is only there to belittle and demonize men.

    I mean…is this really what feminism is to you? Either a Dworkin saying that all sex is rape, or a Paglia or Sommers saying that feminists are awful and hurting men.

    And can you honestly then say that you have been misread? I mean, it seems that they people with whom you agree seem to all view feminism as a major problem. Maybe you are seeking out easy answers, seeking out the writers who tell you that yes, it’s not your fault, it’s those mean women.

    I don’t know what more to say here, it’s clear that you still view feminists as a force for bad given your favoured “feminists”.

  422. Chelsey Says:

    @Vijay I think I understand the difficulty you are describing and the fruitlessness of saying ‘listen’ over and over again to people who are actively trying to do so. In one of my comments above I mentioned the importance of getting in a community of struggle. In my work supporting, say, anti colonial struggles I’ve gone through a progressiom of thinking I was listening but then realized I was not. At all. This was kind of a whole body realization, one that I’m sure will happen again as I realize I’ve still got it wrong. The trick is learning to deal with this process and not regard it as akin to death… Which it can feel like, pesky ego and all.

    I would like to direct you towards an article ‘Beyond power/knowledge: the relation of power, ignorance, and stupidity’ where David Graeber outlines how structural violence produces imaginative deficits in people who are in positions of power over others.

  423. Chelsey Says:

    @Vijay I’m fairly satisfied that people on this thread aren’t going to attack me and deny my experience. So if you think it would be broadly helpful to hear my story- which has many parallels to the Lewin case- i would be happy to do so (and wouldn’t need to reveal the names of the people involved). I think it could be intetesting for people to hear how a woman experiences a situation like that.

  424. Raven on the Hill Says:

    Ooops! Missing phrase! I meant that last sentence to read “that oppresses women in much the same way as the low income world.”

  425. Lawrence D'Anna Says:

    Scott #404

    Why are you so quick to dismiss the importance of quibbles over definitions? Aren’t some definitions better than others? Don’t some clarify while others obscure? Don’t definitions have consequences for how people think and behave?

  426. Rob McMillin Says:

    From what I can tell, the directive to “listen” means “sit quietly while I blame you for things you had no part of, and don’t you dare start defending yourself or others I also slander.” I saw it frequently employed during the reductive #NotAllMen/#YesAllWomen Twitter wars.

  427. Jfr Says:

    I was a shy guy and had some of Scott’s problems in high school. (Though I did not get nearly so depressed about it.) I could talk just fine to girls but could never express any form of romantic or sexual interest in them. I would say that was more simple fear of rejection and embarrassment, rather than obeying some feminist dogma.

    Anyway, I suspect that I am guilty of objectifying women according to feminist theory. I am not sure, for I have never figured out how one can be sexually attracted to someone without objectifying them. Of course I recognize that women are persons with rights over their own bodies but that is not enough apparently.

    From my quasi-libertarian stand point I see nothing wrong with objectifying people (sexually or otherwise. Indeed what employer does not objectify the people he/she employs?). I ask people to behave legally and morally, not think pure thoughts.

  428. Ariel Says:

    Scott #414 (to Amy)

    You relate your (interesting) experiences helping women through divorce, but then you draw the conclusion that broad, societal forces are more important than individual circumstances. What’s funny is that I drew a completely different conclusion from the same stories: namely, that our current divorce system sounds horribly screwed up! If the legal system produces results wildly at variance with commonsense moral intuitions about individual cases, then it’s not the moral intuitions I’m interested in changing; it’s the legal system.

    I understood Amy as trying to explain the difference between the personal and the structural. If I got it right, Amy said that in the second case personal traits (or personal histories) of the people involved have little explanatory or predictive power: in other words, if you can explain/predict the behavior given just the basic initial data (divorce) plus the information about societal forces, then the whole issue is more structural than personal.

    Your conclusion (that the legal system needs to be changed) is of course different, but it doesn’t contradict in any way what Amy wrote. It’s simply that Amy’s topic was different.

    Be that as it may, on Amy’s approach “structural” and “personal” are not absolute terms: one and the same thing could be structural to some degree and personal to some degree, depending on the amount of personal and social information needed in the explanation/prediction. As a matter of fact, this last conclusion seems to me quite intuitive. The value of the whole approach would now depend on whether we are able to work out a good measure of the amount of both types of information.

    After this is done, we could ask how the nerds are situated on such a scale … and we could live happily ever after, wondering perhaps why the hell we needed such a verdict in the first place.

  429. Jake Says:

    Hi Scott,
    Thanks a lot for writing your comments. They resonated a lot with me; I’ve faced similar struggles to the ones you describe, and it helps a lot to see it acknowledged by other people. Although male nerds do get a lot of attention from the media (such as being the subject of, and the target audience of, numerous blockbuster films), this particular problem is really one that rarely if ever is discussed or acknowledged, and for those experiencing it, it is very severe. Anyway, I hope that this whole ordeal doesn’t end up distracting you too much from the equally-pressing problems of science!

    I’m also impressed by a lot of the commenters in this thread, who have expressed a lot of patience. Raven, Chelsey, and others, thanks. I don’t necessarily agree with you fully, but I know how much time and energy it takes to commit to that level of patience and reasonableness in a discussion, and I want you to know that there are readers who do not take that effort for granted. I think this kind of patience is the only way for humans to bridge such wide gaps as I am witnessing in this conversation. I’m sorry for writing a long post which might take up a lot of time.

    I spent most of university as a male in a highly gender-imbalanced STEM environment (eg. 4 women in a class of 80). I then went to MIT for grad school and, although I was impressed by the much more balanced gender ratio that that institution has achieved, it was still clearly a female-minority environment.

    I hold myself to be an ardent feminist, and I’ve spent some time exposing myself to feminist literature, perspectives, and experiences. I don’t regret this at all, and it’s helped my personal development, broadened my views, and shaped who I am. I think that North American society is still failing women, and the signs of this become more obvious to me the more I train myself to recognize them. But I do have to admit that this learning experience came with the side-effect of feeling at times like a massive barrage against my personhood.

    During that period, although I would sometimes develop a strong attraction to and respect for some of my female peers, I always felt that expressing that in any way would be an oppressive act, no matter in what manner I did so. Why? Because those amazing women must be constantly burdened by the unwanted attention of their much more numerous male peers. I had read more than a few such testimonies. I would much rather have run myself under the bus than hurt, or even annoy, those who I admired so much.

    This got worse for me after reading essays like “Schrodinger’s rapist”, and some similar ones. I unwittingly internalized those messages before I understood properly why they were written, and who they were written to. Now that I know more, I still view some of those messages as wrong and potentially harmful to those who stumble upon them. But I can understand better where they are coming from.

    I started viewing myself in a very bad way as a result. Not as a threat to those around me — obviously not; it’s easy to not rape anybody: just don’t rape them. Easy! — but as a “Schrodinger’s” threat. Mindful of the fact that I was in an environment that was already micro-oppressive to women, there was little I could do to avoid being part of the background quantum foam that makes life worse just by posing a potential threat. I used to go out of my way a lot to help people, like walking them to their destination when they were lost or when it was raining. (Both men and women). I thought it was a way I could make the world a friendlier place. But after internalizing a lot of messages that I thought were aimed at me, that behaviour matched how “Nice Guys” would behave, and it occurred to me that women might view even those kinds of gestures as threatening, or as some kind of favour that I’d expect to be repaid.

    I was crushed by this, because it meant my attempts to be nice to people (*genuinely* nice) may be have been making things much worse. From a young age I’d built most of my self-esteem around the idea of, well, being a good and nice person who expects nothing in return, but suddenly that ideal was transformed before my eyes into a toxic thing. How was I supposed to help people and make the world a better place now?

    (For those who would tell me that it’s unhealthy to build your self-esteem around others like that, I can only say that I disagree. I was able to survive relentless bullying, including being called ‘gay’ by macho guys, sexually harrassed by older girls, and being dragged screaming by my arms around the gymnasium, by the unshakeable certainty that I was a good person who was making the world a better place).

    It took me longer than it should have to realize it, but I’m also an asexual. Before I deduced that, I didn’t know that my (near-zero) libido was any different than the average for young men. I don’t think I have ever experienced sexual frustration. Lack of sex has been a total non-issue for me and now that I know it’s unusual, I consider it a blessing for me. Life would have been much harder if I’d had a sex drive. I do still feel awfully lonely sometimes, but that’s my problem and I’m sure I can sort it out eventually.

    Reading #171, I recognized a lot of myself in it. I often wished I had been born a woman, because I attach much less value to my own personal safety than I do to making sure others around me feel safe, and I think that would have been easier if I were female. I spent a lot of time wondering what I could do that would make me seem less threatening to others around me, which has mostly just helped to make me more self-conscious and anxious. I’m over 6 feet tall, which I can’t help. I shave regularly, because I heard that unshaven men can seem more intimidating. I’ve been very averse towards working out and building muscle too. I wait for long pauses in conversations before I give my opinion, to make sure I’m not talking over anyone else. Maybe if I had ‘asexual’ tattooed on my forehead, that would make sure that people weren’t afraid of me?

    I wasn’t actually very concerned about direct negative consequences for me (like the whole world bullying me and calling me a quantum-rapist or a misogynist or anything). I don’t think it would actually happen, and if it did, I might be able to laugh it off. It was hurtful to think that people might think badly of me, or mistake me for a “Nice Guy(TM)”. But I actually do have multiple close friends who survived rape and other forms of male violence, and the thought that I might actually be making life worse for others around me, by accident, doing the things that I thought would help, and that sent me into a terrible spiral that I’m still trying to climb out from.

    And it’s hard to escape! It really is! Because although I can recognize that I’m extremely atypical, and that ‘normal people’ don’t have this problem at all, I also know as a fact that ‘normal behaviour’ is not anything I would like to emulate. Today’s normal is the reason that misogyny is still a problem and Schrodinger’s rapist is still a concern! So obviously the solution is not for me to just overcome my anxiety and be normal.

    I see the parallel to anorexia (although I’m not anorexic), because in a society where ‘normal behaviour’ is medically overweight and respectable doctors are issuing warnings about obesity and diabetes, in addition to the media’s obsessive focus on beauty, there’s a lot of messages that an anorexic person can internalize even when they aren’t directed to them. Most people who were dangerously underweight could probably realize that they should go against the flow and eat more, but maybe anorexics can’t identify that they’ve way overcompensated beyond a healthy diet. For me, I can see obviously that life remains really hard for women, especially my peers in STEM, and all I can do to mitigate the problem is alter my own behaviour. But I see absolutely no way of determining how far is far enough, and how far is an overshoot. As far as I can tell, my efforts are paying off and helping women around me to feel safer, so maybe I should keep going.

    I can only imagine how much worse Scott had it than I did.

  430. Jake Says:

    *Sorry for double-posting., I didn’t mean to imply that Schrodinger’s Rapist, in particular, is wrong. I think it’s a valuable and eye-opening piece. Its impact on me may have been unhealthy, though. There are some other feminist perspectives that I do disagree with and think are wrong, but not that one.

  431. Diego Mesa Says:


    I’d like to thank you for courageously sharing and opening yourself up in this manner. Although the discussion that ensued gave way to several very negative interpretations and comments, it has opened my eyes to an entirely new perspective and literature. You courageously sharing your experiences, the discussions and links to other opinion pieces have profoundly affected me in a very positive way, and I thank you for that.


  432. Physics Dude Says:

    Re the structural vs personal debate, what about that old slogan, “the personal is the political”?

  433. NoName Says:

    Maznakoff, #407: “First of all, though, the rights of women in the rest of the world, outside our (western) society, need defending much much more.”

    This comment, and those of its ilk, are incredible to see, after reading these threads and empathizing with Scott’s story (thanks for sharing it, Scott) and then having a healthy discussion about the reaction to his story here. Are most of us not irritated that the problem Scott describes is being dismissed in some quarters because other problems “need defending much much more”? Surely we can handle more than one thing at once…

    Besides, the argument that Western feminists are navel-gazers and need to rescue their less fortunate sisters is as old as the hills and totally bogus. Firstly, often it is presumptuous and patronizing to offer help or solutions when you know nothing of a context which is not your own. See every failed white knight project in the developing world for evidence. I’ve seen and heard first hand — often the help offered is not wanted, is off-key, etc. Locals know what locals need, and I’d rather donate to one of many great small NGOs making a difference somewhere else than assume I know what’s best and speak for someone else’s issue or gin up my own enterprise to “fix” someone else’s society.

    But the Western world is what I know about, and there is so much to fix here it is difficult to believe that you cannot see it. I suppose, one sees what one wants to see. We could start with a few recent news headlines: Mass child sexual exploitation of mostly vulnerable, lower-class girls uncovered across the UK, ignored for many years and the predators still at large; the recurring scandal of sexual abuse and rape of servicewomen in the US military being covered up and left unpunished; the doxxing and severe harassment of women online for having the temerity to express an opinion; a vulnerable young woman in Ireland is forced by the state to bear her rapist’s child; youth gangs in London compile “sket lists” of girls they rape as retaliation against other gangs, which they do with impunity because they know it’s a crime they can get away with; American women now being charged with “fetal homicide” and serving time if their miscarriages are “suspicious”, New Orleans police failing to investigate 1000+ sexual assault cases for no apparent reason, widespread human trafficking of underage American girls for prostitution, etc etc etc, I could honestly go on. These stories are shocking, awful, and are all easy to find in reputable sources such as the New York Times and the Guardian, and are all from the past year or so.

    There is some serious work to do, right here in our own backyard.

    There are other issues too, which comparatively are less shocking, but are nonetheless symptomatic of an overall spectrum of discrimination and bigotry. Let everyone do the work where they see fit, and where they think they can make change, however small. Some might see Scott’s story as a trivial, first world problem on par with a Western feminist complaining about catcalling on the street. I refuse to see it that way, as someone said above, it’s always worth checking your own behaviour, trying to listen to the lived experiences of others, and being compassionate. Often, change starts small.

    Thank you again Scott, for sharing your story, and thanks as well to Amy, Kev, Raven on the Hill, and others whose comments on these threads I have really appreciated.

  434. Vijay D'Silva Says:

    Scott, I should have said this much, much earlier. I’ve been reading your blog for over a decade and I realise as I write this that you are among a handful of writers with whom I have such a long-term relationship. One thing I’ve learnt is that if someone claims that quantum computers can solve NP-complete problems in polynomial time, I can throw them a link to your blog and run the other way. More generally, I’ve always been in awe of your calling out and incessant battle (and battles there have been!) with intellectual dishonesty. In fact, I’ve seen you in terms of your early image of a scientific prophet. A life-lesson I learnt from this blog, which I didn’t get from anywhere else, and where you have lead by example, is that there are intellectual bullies and that one can stand up to them, call out the nonsense, and come out sane at the end. So thanks for a decade of stimulation and entertainment.

    I was reeling for days after reading your comments on the previous thread because they brought back a lot of youthful memories I had put to rest. My own words cannot capture the totality of what I think you’ve been doing in the last two weeks so I decided to use yours: You’re practically a saint. I’m confident you won’t have to be martyred to get there.

  435. Interested reader Says:

    Kev, #401: Several of the links in Other Scott’s piece are malformed (he didn’t put the http:// in and the blog software decided they should come off of his page…). If you mouse over them any of the nerd-entitlement links that link back to a subdomain of the post can be corrected by removing the start and adding a http:// . For example, here‘s “The Entitlement And Misogyny of Nerd Culture”

    Section II, you’ve somehow managed to elide the three links in that section to examples of what he’s talking about. As for the cartoons, they’re free-floating in Tumblr. They’re also not cartoons of a particular person, they’re a stereotype. That’s the point.

    I have quite literally never seen a man sexually harass a woman. But I don’t doubt that it happens, because, y’know, there’s a lot of people who’ve said it happens to them. There are a lot of people here saying they’ve seen “nerds are icky misogynists” stuff from a subset of feminists.

    Other Scott is not saying feminism = bad, and frankly that accusation confuses me. He’s saying that a) there are feminists who say this sort of thing and b) that is bad.

    Your following characterisation of his argument… Are you sure you actually read the same article as me? Because it seemed pretty clear to me:
    – Laurie Penny is coming very very close to saying “We had it worse, so yours doesn’t count”
    – I really shouldn’t say “nuh uh” but I want to so here’s some stats indicating that no, really, statistically speaking men have romantic frustration way worse
    – Even assuming that the people talking about this are really unattractive and so are much less likely to get “yes” to “wanna go out?”, the chances are still high enough that just asking people out would rather quickly resolve the issue
    – That implies there’s something that’s making people not want to ask people out
    – For women, feminist’s say it’s slut shaming, so Other Scott doesn’t slut shame
    – The position being taken here is that the problem for male nerds is nerd-shaming, partially from feminsts

    Following bits discuss the “But it’s not structural” objection, the “privilege” objection, and the “it’s the patriarchy” objection.

    I kind of get the feeling you’re not actually reading what he’s writing, so much as skimming it for words or phrases you can interpret as indicating that he’s a bad person. You know, kind of like what Marcott did.

    As for Marcott… If you insist.

    Section before the first quote: Appears to be talking about an alternate-universe Scott Aaronson.

    Section after the first quote: Deliberately misinterprets Scott attempting to clarify that he understands that the person he was responding to has a position that stems from their personal experience, but that he thinks that experience isn’t universal to “You’re lying and nerds never do anything wrong”.

    Section after the second quote: Marcott implies Scott is lying about having read feminist books because she wants to believe that Scott is a misogynist (Oh, the irony!). She ignores Scott mentioning a few feminist blogs that he reads by name.

    Section after the third quote: Marcott has an extremely nonstandard definition of the word ‘sigh’.

    Fourth quote: Marcott thinks that Scott is talking about the fear of /rejection/, when he’s actually talking about the fear that sexual desire made him /a bad person/. These are not the same. The reference to women’s suffering is out of place and utterly irrelevant, although Other Scott’s thesis that Marcott is operation on a one-dimensional model of privilege maybe explains it.

    Fifth quote: Appears to about altenate-universe Scott rather than the one she’s actually quoting.

    Sixth quote: Scott’s point is that gay male and heterosexual female desire doesn’t get targeted sexual-assault workshops, and he’d subconsciously/consciously accepted the principle that sexual desire aimed at a woman was wrong, but had no such principle for desire for men. Marcott’s ‘translation’ has very little to do with what scott wrote.

    Seventh quote: Marcotte doesn’t address Scott’s point, which is that none of the feminists he read were talking about the situations where sexual desire of women is fine.

    Eighth quote: Marcotte addresses alternate-universe Scott again. Scott is just saying that wider reading of the feminist literature gave him more reasons to think that he was a terrible person.

    Ninth quote: Marcotte’s objection only holds so long as you completely ignore literally everything Scott has said about how feminism made his social anxieties worse. It’s also worth noting (this was in Other Scott’s piece as well, but you didn’t get up to it) that the gender gap in STEM already seems to be in place by high school (for example, gender gap in kids doing high-school CS), so people telling women that they’re not allowed in maths doesn’t seem to be having a strong statistical effect – possibly because the remaining 20% of women who go into STEM are the core that don’t care about cultural gender roles, possibly because they’re in areas and social groups where cultural gender roles aren’t emphasized, or possibly because it’s not stronger in STEM than in other fields. Oh, also Scott just disclosed that this anxiety led to him feeling suicidal and Marcott replies “You got to hide in maths? PRIVILEGED!” without a shred of empathy. Keep that in mind when you read Marcotte: she’s talking about someone saying “I was depressed and suicidal and I feel like some of it was linked to messages I got from feminism” and she’s treating him like scum.

    Tenth quote: Seriously? You need me to tell you why you don’t want drek like this in your camp? I will note that Scott begging to be chemically castrated is a pretty strong indicating that feeling entitled to sex isn’t a motive here, and that Marcotte glosses over that, preferring to take a cheap shot.

    Eleventh quote: This is an example of the kind of claim that’s utter nonsense in the face of wanting to be chemically castrated.

    Twelfth: This is Scott saying that the combination of modern dating mechanisms combined with certain feminist messages was part of it, not saying ye olde mechanisms were better.

    Thirteenth: Man, alternate-universe Scott is a dick. Here in this universe, Scott was not going on dates and demanding women disown Dworkin. Scott is not looking for women to be sex-dispensing machines. It’s hard to even understand how Marcotte thinks Scott wants women to be sex-dispensing machines.

    Fourteenth: Has nothing to do with what Scott is saying how can she get it /this wrong/. You accuse Scott Alexander of arguing in bad faith, and yet Marcotte is either maliciously misinterpreting Scott, doesn’t care about correctly interpreting Scott and just went with whatever got the most outrage-porn points, or is an idiot.

    Fifteenth: Cheap shots, also Marcotte is arguing dishonestly by living in the convenient world where oh yes, Scott definitely never saw men sexually harass women and also be romantically successful.

    Sixteenth: Cheap shot.

    Seventeenth: Doesn’t follow. Women still occasionally ask men out in the teeth of slut shaming, but Marcotte wouldn’t say that was evidence that slut-shaming isn’t a problem. Getting enough confidence/self-belief/lunatic courage to do X in spite of strong societal signals, some internalised, that X is wrong or a bad idea does not indicate that those societal signals do not exist.

    Eighteenth: This isn’t about a cabal of man-hating feminists, this is about internalising the message that sexual desire for a woman is wrong based on a literal misreading of feminist writing that is /very easy/ to misinterpret that way.

    Nineteenth: Nothing Scott has said implies that he thinks women are less than people.

    Twentieth: Scott isn’t positing a conspiracy, he’s saying that some feminist messages are unintentionally harmful to nerds.

    Twentyfirst: Scott says the outcome of a number of individual people making individually blameless choices can hurt groups in society. Marcott inserts what she’d prefer him to be saying.

    Twentysecond: Alternate-universe Scott strikes again.

    Twentythird: Is an amazingly uncharitable reading of Scott. Again: This is /not about wanting sex/. This is just about /wanting better calibrated messaging/, and also maybe wanting less explicit nerd-shaming in modern feminist communities.

    Twentyfourth: This is not about wanting sex.

    Twentyfifth: No, really, this is /not about sex/.

    Twentysixth: This is quite possibly the least charitable reading of what Scott wrote possible. Scott specifically says that he does not think it is possible, in principle, to compare sufferings, but notes that there’s no support group here. Marcott interprets that as “It’s totally possible to compare these things and I have it worse”.

    Twentyseventh: Cheap shot.

    Twentyeighth: Scott says “If you just dismiss this with the standard mechanisms used to dismiss inconvenient arguments in this field, then I’ll conclude that you’re unlikely to have anything to offer”. Marcott claims, without evidence, that Scott was never interested in learning to begin with, because it might disturb beliefs he pretty clearly doesn’t have.

    Twentyninth: Scott says he looks forward to a response that isn’t “Patriarchy privilege mansplaining fee fees!”, Marcott interprets it as “Tell me I’m good or you’re a bad person”.

    Marcott systematically misinterprets what Scott is saying in order to make his claims easily-dismissed redpill ranting instead of the rather more thoughtful and nuanced position it actually was. And she responds to someone talking about how they wanted to commit suicide with venom and acid. Imagine if her piece was read by Scott during the years he’s talking about – it would be somewhere between not-helpful-at-all and a trigger for suicide. Remember that Scotts have both noted that they’ve received a number of emails and comments saying “Oh my god I thought I was the only one thank you for talking about your experience”, and there’s every reason to expect there are people growing up today with the same problem. Now do you understand why so many people are utterly furious about Marcott’s bullshit? She’s found an anorexic writing about their experiences, and she decided to call them fat.

  436. anon Says:

    @Kev Comment #402

    Links to guys being called those names, so that the reader can get context?

    This I will concede. I can’t find citations either.

    Alexander has in the past written extensively about his concerns over malignant trends with feminism & social justice (I think my use of “malignant” was influenced by his whale cancer essay), the toxicity that goes viral in twitter & tumblr, and how both social-media platforms were structured to fan flamewars by design. His blog is pretty prolific – 8000 word essays are uncommon, but not surprising. This common background with his regular commenteriat was assumed, though perhaps not unreasonably. We like to keep him to ourselves. ;D

    men and women with anxiety issues have it rough growing up, feminism is not to blame.

    Analyzing someone’s past is always a nuanced endeavor. Do we agree that shy-nerd syndrome has a psychic component which is then amplified by signals from the environment? Because the inborn psychic component is probably about the same between genders, and the signal component is probably mutable. Figuring out what’s mutable (and later actionable) I feel is more productive than shifting around a single locus of “blame”. If we follow the chains of causality to their fullest extent, why not just lay all blame at the feet of the big bang? “Guys I figured it out! It’s all the big bang’s fault!” Huh, why am I having déjà vu?

    But instead, Scott A starts laying out his strawmen, that if only these women asked some guys out they’d get laid.

    Wait, that isn’t a strawman about strawmen, is it?

    “Oh God! There was that one time when I looked at a woman and almost thought about asking her out! That means I must be feeling entitled to sex! I had temporarily forgotten that as a toxic monster I must never show any sexuality to anybody! Oh God oh God I’m even worse than I thought!”

    Again, this is not the most rational thing in the world.

    Moving on…

    which he drops to 10% because…reasons, and then says “too hard, what a market failure”.

    Alexander knows his audience is full of nerds and adjusted the numbers to better fit the problem at hand. He believes using the 50% figures for average joes as if they applied to nerds would have been disingenuous because it would have been easier for him to distractingly attribute a false cause to a why nerdy men and nerdy women don’t engage each other more frequently. He generally believes in arguing in good faith and steelmanning, as it let’s him get the heart of the disagreement and prevents certain vectors of uninteresting criticism from diluting higher quality criticism. This practice is a community norm.

    I’m not sure what your beef is with “market failure”. Please explain.

    3 out of 4 links go to page not found.

    I’m not sure whether this is relevant, but in one of his recent posts, cookies were forgetting regular users. Alexander has linked misfigured URLs before through silly mistakes, but never en masse. So this may be indicative of a word press issue. On the other hand, jaskologist seemed to think the cookie issue was isolated to chrome. I don’t really know. In the meantime, just remove the SSC address from the rest of the URL, and you should be fine.

    she [Marcotte] is free to make it as stridently as she wants.

    Political freedom of expression is not the same as epistemic justification or a lisence to bully.

  437. Bill Says:

    Jen #398

    Your evidence from China and India is probably correct, but I don’t believe your conclusions. We do not suffer in the West with the degree of male domination found in either of those countries. India appears to have a genuine rape culture; China has such a preference for men over women that it has a grave problem with gender-selective abortion. Do these countries really have a more tolerant attitude towards female education in STEM?

    In fact, the differences between wealthy and poorer countries relate to the greater level of choice and freedom that we in wealthier countries enjoy. In a poorer country, one takes whatever opportunities one can find. In a wealthier country, one has greater freedom to choose the work that gives job satisfaction and personal fulfilment.

    The paradox was examined in this Norwegian TV documentary which asked why, when Norway was found to be the most gender-equal society in the world, nurses were nearly always women, while engineers were nearly always men.


    Raven on the Hill #407

    I would be surprised if Joanna Russ had not faced the pressure you describe, because after all she lived in the “Mad Men” era. I hope and believe that we have moved on since then.

    Honours for successful women scientists are a separate topic. Vera Rubin most certainly deserves the Nobel Prize for her work on galactic rotation, which is fundamental to our ideas about dark matter. She is now 86, and I sincerely hope that she will win the prize before it is too late.

    Feminist writers tend to overlook women like Rubin, because what seems to motivate them is not cases where a first-class woman scientist has been overlooked, but those where they can argue that her honour was stolen by a man. Thus they are much more interested in believing that Jocelyn Bell was robbed by Hewish and Ryle, or that Einstein stole his ideas from Mileva Marić.

  438. anon Says:

    @Kev Comment #402

    Instead of demanding we vilify her, how about you do the work and show where she is wrong.

    Where do we even begin.

    [Aaronson] starts on the assumption that women do not suffer things like social anxiety or rejection.

    I really like Alexander’s bear analogy.

    So imagine I’m Bill Gates. All the privileges. I get mauled by a bear. I complain to my friends and later explain how my luminous skin made me more conspicuous at night while hiding in a bush, and I might have evaded mama bear had I been more tan. “Wait, are you assuming black people don’t get mauled by bears? Black people get mauled by bears – PLUS, they’re discriminated against in the work place!” Um, ethnicity sounds like a problem only tangentially related to my unfortunate conspicuousness, and I even have this neat foundation where I- “You sir, need to check. your. privilege.”

    it was just a yalp of entitlement combined with an aggressive unwillingness to accept that women are human beings just like men.

    “So entitled he requested medicinal castration – the NERVE!”

    If that’s been your experience, then I understand how it could reasonably have led you to your views. Of course, other women may have had different experiences.

    Translation: I think you’re lying,

    1. “People have contradictory experiences.”
    3. You must be lying.

    A tour de force of logic.

    Never mind that the movie epitomizing the nerd/jock dichotomy I lean heavily on features a nerd raping a woman in an act of revenge,

    I will grant you this one, Kev.

    will find that the only feminist whose name he appears to remember is Andrea Dworkin’s

    Okay… So we realize we’re describing the impressions of a naive, autodidacting, highschool runt. Right?

    “In Perl, underline is understood!
    In Perl, underline is understood!”


    Translation: Having to explain my suffering to women when they should already be there, mopping my brow and offering me beers and blow jobs, is so tiresome.

    Meta translation: I’m too busy generating clickbait to notice the wrath of the tempest Aaronson was emotionally bracing himself for.

    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.

    This is a critical passage, because it really lays out his thesis: That fear of rejection is a male-only experience

    Hello. I run Microsoft. You know what makes me feel wealthy? Money. Bear injuries, on the other hand, do not make me feel rich. Actually, they kinda hurt when I put pressure on- “Pain is not a rich-only experience!”

    My recurring fantasy, through this period, was to have been born a woman, or a gay man, or best of all, completely asexual,

    Translation: I believe that women and gay men do not experience either sexual desire or fear of rejection,

    It’s me again, Bill- “PRIVILEGE.

    So Kev. I’m only like half way through the article. But I feel at the third Bill, this is starting to get redundant. Are we done yet? Or do you still remain uncovinced that Marcotte, is in fact, a Vorgon spy.

  439. Amy Says:

    Scott #414 (good to hear your voice again in this) — yes, divorce law/court is horribly screwed up. It gets worse only in Russian lit. On the other hand, it’s once again the difficulty you run into at a governmental/policy level when you’re trying to deal with extremely complex, personal, and urgent questions (particularly when almost everyone going through the process is a complete noob. I came to the conclusion that most of a divorce lawyer’s fee is for shepherding disoriented and substantially crazy people). If you look at the caseloads, they’re tremendous. You can’t say “screw it, this isn’t something for the state to deal with”, because then you wind up with property disputes, even worse mother/child poverty, and serious trouble over kids. We also make marriage a legal state, which means you have to be able to undo it legally. So divorce law is a morass of convention, precedent, politics, sociology, psychology, criminal justice, property law, home economics, and judges’ individual lunacies, and it changes all the time in every state…the only blessing is that most divorces leave the courts for good when the children turn 22. Compounding the problem is that most statehouses are nuthouses, and they make divorce laws in each state, with the American Bar Assoc and judges’ organizations shouting “whoa, nelly” all the time. (The state reps, some of whom have the IQs of carrots, like to make impracticable divorce laws.) Anyway – when you deal with law, you deal with a machine, and the more socially ordinary the kind of case, the bigger and less forgiving the machine. It takes people inside the machine a long time to understand they’re in one.

    Welcome to social sciences! 😀 And look, there’s nothing physical sciences would recognize as a control.

    Incidentally, I’m not saying that broad social forces are more important than individual ones. They both exist and both matter. I’m saying it depends on the scale and context you’re looking at. If you want to understand those structural forces directing the high-stakes decisions of the individual, you’re going to come away from cris de coeur for a little bit. (If you want this in its original revolutionary horror, reread Hobbes, the father of modern government.) If you want to understand what those structures mean as part of lived experience, you want to be up close to the people’s voices and minds. They aren’t wholly independent, but some people build the structure and some have no influence on it at all, and this is why power and influence and position matter. Your young woman with the lovelorn older man, in the last thread, has influence in one relationship. The state legislator has influence in millions. A professor at MIT is not without influence, either. (I’m thinking of one guy in particular, an EE…what was his name? Bush, Vannevar. Not bad with the social-structure-building, Prof. Bush.) Which is part of what I’ve been saying throughout, though maybe not straightforwardly enough: your views on this matter (more) because of your position. That’s not a suggestion that you get out the hex paper, but a suggestion that you are not actually free, in that position, to regard yourself reasonably as an entirely private person. You will help shape important structures and your views, as you do so, will matter. Which is why they have to be smart and broad and nuanced and well-informed, and part of why this is a good conversation.

    About the other books — next post, I guess, this is long.

  440. Amy Says:

    Scott #415 – you’re right, Paglia and CSH certainly aren’t regarded as feminists, and for good reasons. (I don’t know Patai.) But it’s a long reach back for me for both of them, and Paglia’s hardly been heard from in over a decade. I haven’t checked out the link above, the Autism/Feminism/Nerds one, but I have a feeling that — in a practical sense, at least — this direction is where some of the amelioration will come from. The problem is it probably won’t be very smart.

    I keep thinking about the combination of literalness, lack of the lived experience that makes context, and concentrated theory.

  441. Raven on the Hill Says:

    A digression on feminist ideas of patriarchy and power seems like it might be worthwhile.

    Patriarchy is an anthropological term which refers to societies dominated by men. Feminist theorists have argued that, in most male-dominated societies, a male-dominated vertical hierarchy, very likely derived from ape instinct, is the social order. Sociology and current politics give this idea at least some weight.

    A long time ago, I remember reading some feminist theorist suggesting that we replace the idea of “above” with the idea of “more central” in our thinking. At the time it did not make sense to me—mathematically they are not very different—, but watching the behavior of people, especially white men when they feel they are on the bottom of heap, or even might be on the moving there, I think she had a point. The idea that white men are no longer better than (gasp!) blacks and women is persuading people to actual violence as well as support of idiotic policies.

  442. Raven on the Hill Says:

    Bill, #437: “I would be surprised if Joanna Russ had not faced the pressure you describe, because after all she lived in the “Mad Men” era. I hope and believe that we have moved on since then.”

    We have moved on, but not, I think, far enough, and the advances we have made still might be reversed.

    “Feminist writers tend to overlook women like Rubin”

    I entered “Vera Rubin feminist” into my favorite search engine and found several entries from feminists. Rubin even made Cosmos, thanks to the good offices of executive producer Ann Druyan, who regards Rubin as a personal hero. Ironically, the Time article I got that information from names Druyan’s husband immediately after her name and then describes her as “a writer, producer and director” instead of giving her actual and senior title of executive producer—a very fine example of microaggression.

    Amy, #439: I will be interested in your comments on the books. I have written two cranky posts on them, like neither post, and want to see what you have to say.

  443. Raoul Ohio Says:

    I think it is a worthy endeavor for anyone to spend some time trying to formulate a reasonable, consistent, etc., set of beliefs about important issues of society, such as those addressed recently in SO, and many others.

    However, given that these topics are very complex, slippery, multi-dimensional, highly charged, etc., one is unlikely to come up with a satisfactory set.

    Furthermore, many or most other people will have a different take. Many of these opinions are reasonable, some are extreme, some are batshit crazy, some are incoherent, and what not. So, if you publish your opinion, you are attracting a lot of attention, some of it rabid.

    Attempting to defend your positions from everyone firing away from all directions might be kind of fun (in an extreme sports kind of way, like BASE jumping), but there is zero chance you will ever reach an agreement with most of the critics.

    Thus, Scott, I admire your energy, gumption, and fearlessness in the face of the din, and hope you do not take it personally. I don’t know how you get any work done.

  444. Raoul Ohio Says:

    It would be a good thing if the recent threads on SO attract the attention of under represented groups to the STEM world.

    For any minority or female high school students reading this, be assured that most university STEM departments not only will not discriminate against you, but probably have office trying to recruit you right now.

  445. Amy Says:

    Ariel #428, that’s about right, except that I don’t know that any aspect of human doings is unconstrained by a larger social structure. Suppose you’ve had it with society and you go off to live in the woods. To begin with, the fact that “woods” is somehow in opposition to “society” in your mind comes from somewhere, as does your loopy, Rousseau-derived notion of an idyll (you’ll get there and find that the rest of nature has things to say about where you go and what you do). But anyway off you go. Where you go, what woods remain, is decided for you already by social definitions of not-woods and property laws (NO TRESPASSING, also rules about camping in national parks) as will your notions of how you’d better organize yourself once you get there.

    If you’re a professor in STEM, your actions are unbelievably constrained by larger structures. You might be very happy to live within those constraints, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Not only have you already accepted disciplinary definitions and in some measure defined yourself by them, for decades you have lived by academia’s rules and procedures (note that Scott wrote #171 in 2014, not 2009) — and a large part of your life is given over to satisfying the rules of your funding agencies, as is the bent and scope of your work.

    If you talk to women in the professoriate, you’ll hear many appalling stories of attempting to have children and get tenure simultaneously. In the last thread, Lou suggested women sort of try to hide childbirth in the 5-year-grants, a little like sneaking veggies into cake batter for reluctant children. There’s some serious human craziness that goes on that’s driven by the way science and academia are organized.

    Anyway. My larger point is that I doubt you can get away from the structural forces, and the question is whether they’re benign in various people’s lives or not.

  446. Ampersand Says:

    Interested Reader, #435, nutshells Other Scott.

    – Laurie Penny is coming very very close to saying “We had it worse, so yours doesn’t count”

    No, she really doesn’t. In fact, she says that both count. She says over and over, explicitly, that men’s pain is real, that it matters, that it counts. (“Hi there, shy, nerdy boys. Your suffering was and is real. I really fucking hope that it got better, or at least is getting better,”)

    So this argument is simply dishonest. She didn’t say what you’re criticizing her for saying.

    – I really shouldn’t say “nuh uh” but I want to so here’s some stats indicating that no, really, statistically speaking men have romantic frustration way worse

    Yes, I agree, this is what OtherScott said. But his stats were not actually relevant, in several ways. Just because a researcher (presumably chosen because she doesn’t mind walking up to strangers and talking to them) is able to do something doesn’t mean that Penny was in any way wrong when she said she couldn’t do the same thing.

    – Even assuming that the people talking about this are really unattractive and so are much less likely to get “yes” to “wanna go out?”, the chances are still high enough that just asking people out would rather quickly resolve the issue

    This was based on a 10% number that OtherScott literally just made up. There’s no reason to assume that this number means anything. It takes very little experimentation for me to determine that my number is in fact much, much lower than 10%, for example.

    OtherScott is an extremely attractive person who has trouble understanding the problems of unattractive people. That’s okay, but I wish he’d stop thinking that he’s an expert on my problems, and the problems of people like me (he wrote an entire post about me once).

  447. Ampersand Says:


    Thank you, for both Comment 171 and for this follow-up post.

    I’m an unattractive, shy, very nerdy guy. I think it’s fair to say I’ve had MUCH less romantic success in my life than either you or OtherScott.

    But I’m also a feminist. Growing up, I was entirely, pathetically unable to perform the “boy” role adequately, which led to my being bullied, etc. The worst of it was that I learned to hate myself. I remember standing in front of a mirror, screaming “what is WRONG with you?” and punching myself as hard as I could, again and again (fortunately I was a wimp and couldn’t hit hard!).

    For me, encountering feminism was transformative; for the first time, I was being told that just because I couldn’t act the way boys were supposed to didn’t mean I was subhuman garbage. Instead, feminism told me, the idea that boys had to act in certain ways was garbage. Feminism rescued this shy nerd boy.

    But not completely – the scars ran too deep to be healed so easily. I stopped loathing myself so dramatically, but at some level I still thought of myself as fundamentally undeserving of love or affection, especially romantic affection. Put another way, I thought I was gross. Being fat made matters worse, since our culture is full of messages to fat people telling us that we’re too disgusting to love.

    Regarding comment 171 and “male privilege,” to me it doesn’t matter much if you think you had “male privilege” or not. I think that’s largely an argument about terminology, and I’m more interested in arguments about policy. You obviously do agree that sexism (including sexism against women) exists and is a real problem, and (from what I’ve read, which is of course not comprehensive) it seems to me that you support policies that would tend to reduce sexism. To me, that matters more than the vocabulary.

    I care a lot about the problems and pain of shy male nerds. (Obviously, some of that caring is self-interest, for me.) But if people tell me that to care about shy nerdy men I have to become an anti-feminist, or to hate feminists and bash them the way OtherScott does, then that’s where I get off the train.

  448. Scott Says:

    Ampersand #447: Thank you for sharing that. Again, though, I simply didn’t see OtherScott as “bashing feminism”—only one particular cancerous strain within feminism, which the rest of the movement ought to stand up to for feminism’s own sake. I believe OtherScott, like me, would strongly identify as a feminist. (And FWIW, his girlfriend, Ozy, is a prominent feminist blogger.)

    Regarding your problems: have you tried online dating? Losing weight? What do you regard as your best qualities: empathy? Some sort of professional skill?

  449. Amy Says:

    Jake #429, stories like this are really important, thank you for telling that one. Because these things are invisible. So my question for you: How can someone like me put you at ease in conversation, in an actual room, so that you’re not worried that I’m afraid you’re going to attack me or some such? Is there any way?

    The problem in your thinking, btw, is here:

    And it’s hard to escape! It really is! Because although I can recognize that I’m extremely atypical, and that ‘normal people’ don’t have this problem at all, I also know as a fact that ‘normal behaviour’ is not anything I would like to emulate. Today’s normal is the reason that misogyny is still a problem and Schrodinger’s rapist is still a concern! So obviously the solution is not for me to just overcome my anxiety and be normal.

    While you’re right that most people don’t have this problem, most people also don’t assault women. Schrödinger’s rapist is a problem because of rapists. But you seem to believe that unless you’re practically nonexistent you’re going to damage women, and that there’s nothing inbetween self-effacement and misogyny. This isn’t true.

    Take for instance walking someone to a destination. It’s true that if you did this in a way that seemed to put Samaritan-weight virtue on it, rather than “oh I’m headed that way anyway, I’ll walk you over if you like” (and the answer of course might be no) many people would wonder what you were up to. The usual kind thing to do in the circumstance is to give good directions, smile, and be off. That’s already a donation of time and people appreciate it. But the key there is to know what the usual well-regarded thing is to do. Note that giving directions, smiling, and being off is not a microaggression, and you don’t have to expiate sins you haven’t committed.

    You also say you worry that you might have done damage or that others might have seen you in a certain way. Rather than assume the worst, I’d suggest asking. I’m guessing that your friends will be shocked that you’ve been worrying about this, and that it’s not something they’d even thought of.

    If you need to be thorough about these things, you can catalogue what people who are at ease and seem kind do; it changes from place to place, but you can take a look then at that catalogue, ask, are these all things I really want to do or do some of them seem, on inspection, rather thoughtlessly sexist; and adjust. Understand, though, that nobody’s requiring this of you. It’s an ethical way to behave if “just knowing what to do” doesn’t come naturally.

    I don’t think you should worry about working out. Being a decent guy doesn’t mean harming your health.

    As someone who once read Bonhoeffer for clues as to when and how breaking up with someone might be all right, I can’t claim zero knowledge of this impulse. But the response boils down to “you don’t have to be crazy about this”. You don’t have to stay up all night scrubbing the bathroom tiles to get every last speck out of the grout.

  450. anomynous Says:

    FWIW, Scott Alexander does not identify as a feminist. I don’t think his position is very different from yours, though, just choice of labels. The variance of his expected future position is very large, which may justify rejecting labels.

  451. Victim of psychopath Says:

    Listen to Dr. Robert Hare, well known expert on psychopaths:

    “Millions of men, women and children daily suffer terror, anxiety, pain, and humiliation at the hands of the psychopaths in their lives. Tragically, these victims often cannot get other people to understand what they are going through. Psychopaths are very good at putting on a good impression when it suits them, and they often paint their victims as the real culprits.”

    This is a massively gigantic problem, that anyone that cares about the suffering of innocent victims should be deeply concerned about.

    It should be understood that psychopaths are intrinsically evil as individuals; they are totally lacking in empathy, conscience and remorse. The suffering they inflict on their innocent victims comes from these psychopathic individuals, and not from society’s structures.

    Presumably those who have been making a distinction between “structural” and “personal” would dismiss the horrific suffering of the millions of innocent victims of psychopaths as being merely “personal” rather than “structural”, and therefore not worth a moment’s thought.

    This distinction between “structural” and “personal” is horrifically cruel and morally bankrupt, and it needs to totally stop immediately.

  452. Ampersand Says:


    OtherScott’s post wasn’t about criticizing radical feminists, or the worst excesses of Tumblr/Twitter feminism. He was very clearly talking about fairly mainstream feminists. Most of the post was dedicated to attacking Laurie Penny, who is super nice and very mainstream, who he characterized as being so awful that the nicest thing to say is that she is “probably not the literal worse.”

    He compares feminists to ravenous sharks who have shown up in massive numbers to explicitly tell him to die (“A feeding frenzy of feminists showed up to tell me I was a terrible person and deserved to die”).

    He says that nerds are “bitter about all the women who told us we were disgusting rapists when we opened up about our near-suicidal depression.” (I know he said “women,” but in context it’s fair to say he’s talking about feminists.)

    Then there’s the hundreds and hundreds of words likening feminists to the worst anti-Semites.

    If feminists are the people OtherScott describes, then we are subhuman scum who frankly deserve to die, because we are pure evil and have no worth at all. If the typical feminist response to someone saying “I’m so depressed I’m thinking of suicide” is to say “you’re a rapist!,” as OtherScott suggests, then feminism is an ideology of pure evil.

    And OtherScott didn’t say “some” feminists in the quotes above – he means feminists, not “one particular cancerous strain within feminism.”

    So I’ll stand by my characterization of OtherScott’s post. If I can’t stand feminists who have a “nerds evil, feminists good” ideology. And I can’t stand OtherScott’s “feminists evil, nerds good” ideology. I’m a feminist, AND I’m a nerd, and both those ideologies are poison to me.

    I’m aware of Ozy, and I’m a fan of their blogging. 🙂

    Regarding your problems: have you tried online dating? Losing weight? What do you regard as your best qualities: empathy? Some sort of professional skill?

    I appreciate the place of compassion this is coming from, Scott. But, I’m not sure that advice from romantically successful, conventionally attractive nerds like you, is really what nerds like me require. I think the solutions that worked for you, probably won’t be applicable for me, because we’re not identical. 🙂

    I have tried all the conventional things, and I’m not asking for help. (Although, again, I thank you for you kindness, which is always appreciated).

    No one’s life is perfectly fulfilled in all areas. I have a lot of friends, a very busy social life, a very fulfilling career (exactly the career I dreamed of as a kid), a house I co-own with friends. I’m not lonely. I think I’m at a point where it makes more sense for me to focus on what makes my life wonderful, rather than focusing on what I lack.

    I do make some efforts regarding dating, and if something great comes along there I’ll welcome it. But if it never happens for me, I’ll still have a great life.

  453. Dan Says:

    @bill #389, You write: “It is simply untrue that women who choose to study literature in place of chemical engineering are suffering from a lack of encouragement, institutional sexism, or some other vice of the “patriarchy”.

    I appreciate your certainty but you’re almost certainly wrong. And I’m not sure how the personality test results buttress your argument unless your implication is that culture couldn’t affect the outcome of that test. Do you honestly believe the most parsimonious explanation for the gender imbalance in STEM is nature?

    First, an overly long aside to preemptively rebut the charge that this isn’t motivated by some sort of blinding political correctness: if in a couple decades, if we’ve located some really important SNPs or even epigenetic mechanisms that dictate personality and intellectual capabilities and they happen to vary in important ways across population groups or the sexes, then so be it: we don’t get to tailor nature to our aesthetic ideals. (My best guess is that’s pretty darn unlikely to be the case. And that even if it is, it probably won’t in a way that’s going to satisfy any self-contented contrarian desperate to say, “I told you so!”)

    And in the meantime, it’s just really, really easy to construct plausible, testable explanations that do hinge on culture. And it’s really, really hard to construct plausible explanations that hinge on nature that pass any sort of “smell test”. Unless, of course you’re a bigot who cherry picks data to match your cognitive bias. 🙂

    Moreover, it is “simply true” that culture is a key variable. Take for example, the good characteristics of certain (small-p) patriarchal immigrant cultures in the US because those cultures are wildly overrepresented in STEM relative to the population as a whole.

    Much to my chagrin, personal stories fare well here so I’m going to jump into the fray, albeit tepidly. I suspect many of you have similar experiences so I’ll console myself with the argument that this is a “universal” anecdote:

    My classmates in the high-school and junior high magnet programs I attended were, almost without exception, first-generation Jews, Indians, and East Asians. Now two decades later, I find myself in an almost identical cultural milieu working in a technical field. And I’m pretty sure the reason I ended up in that program and ultimately my job there was because of the push of mom and dad.

    And I’m pretty sure my second-generation Jewish classmates who were largely absent from that program weren’t on average less intelligent. Their parents weren’t just as single-mindedly consumed by the academic performance of their children. And of course, two generations prior, all of us — no matter how talented — would have been denied entry to a top university.

    More to the point: if your response to STEM gender imbalance is to wave your hands and deny the premise altogether, I’d ask that respect the “simply true” reality that the burden of proof for doing so is rightfully, very, very high.

  454. Ampersand Says:


    I wrote “I’m a feminist, AND I’m a nerd, and both those ideologies are poison to me.”

    That came out not as I intended it. To clarify:

    Neither feminism or being nerdy are poison to me. But “feminists evil, nerds good” and “feminists good, nerds evil” are both poisonous to me. I won’t be part of any movement that believes either of those things.

  455. Vadim Kosoy Says:

    Scott hello. I wanted to say that you are one of the most decent and sane persons I e-know. I was shocked by the disgusting campaign of poisonous vilification launched against you by some self-designated feminists. I virtually fully agree with Scott Alexander’s post so I dont have much new to add to the discussion. Mostly I just couldnt keep quiet in the face of this debacle.

    One place where I disagree with your current post is that your suffering was not caused by feminism: yes it was. And if you enjoy “male privilege” then other people enjoy “not being a shy nerd privilege”. IMO social justice newspeak is just a trick for constructing sophisms instead of having meanigful discussion (motte and bailey).

  456. Vijay D'Silva Says:

    Dear Jake #429,

    Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful, gentle and personal post. Different people come to recognize themselves for what they are at different stages in life, and when it happens very late, it does cause wonder about why things took so long. I only hope that it wasn’t traumatic or tumultuous but a gradually increasing awareness over time.

    Have you interacted other people with similar experiences? I am intimately familiar with a person who has experiences similar to yours (and more so than to Scott Aaronson’s). If you would like to know more or have a conversation with someone with a similar story, please get in touch.

  457. Amy Says:

    J #386 –

    You know, it’s interesting. I’m not an academic feminist (despite being a feminist with a job in academia) and in general have little patience for theory; I came to the subject simply by living. Had little interest in it for most of my life.

    What I’ve read of academic feminism that isn’t some form of ethnography is very, very heavy on the marxist noodling. Given that at the age of nine my kid was able to see, on her own, that Marx had clear vision but terrible prescriptions, and given that feminism’s been, well, a thing for quite a long time now…well, why in God’s name, if you’re a guy who’s heard about this feminism thing and wants to understand it better, would you go for marxist noodling from happily tenured professors and expensively-educated bloggers rather than thinking, “I keep hearing about this feminism, and surely it has to be more interesting than this. Where are the interesting (yet sane) parts?” Because the interesting parts are always from people who have something serious at stake and talk plainly about it. You know this without knowing it, nobody wants to read a story about, I don’t know, dropped stitches in a sweater that’s going to sit in a drawer until Christmas and then be given away without incident.

    Women being raped at college (or anywhere else, for that matter) is serious. Women being robbed of big money over the course of a lifetime and being left in near-poverty in old age is serious. Women being expected to bear most or all of the labor of childrearing for free is serious. Obstacles to education, glass ceilings, nickel-and-diming, there’s a whole list of things just in the US, and this stuff isn’t a set of conference papers, it’s very real.

    I can see going to the academics now and then for help with some kind of framework with the whole thing, interpretation. But I don’t think you need to be very old to mistrust the frameworks, particularly tidy ones meant to be of a piece with some larger and equally improbably tidy theory about how people do. I can also see going and listening to the young bloggy types to hear what they’re shouting about these days, what they’re trying to work out as they finish growing up, but if you have any ears and you’re over 30 yourself you ought to be able to hear that part of what’s going on is the process of self-definition; you’re just eavesdropping.

    That said, I’ll point out that sometimes the line isn’t that clear. Not all the bloggers are rich kids for whom this is all Lost-in-Translation games, not all the scholars are safe, many have been victims of physical attacks and discrimination, sometimes they’re operating without nets, and sometimes the things they’ve got on the line aren’t trivial.

    It’s also not without value, their yelling. I understand some of why less-well-off women don’t go around like that, and revolutions aren’t made by the vulnerable and those who expect nothing. But theory and yelling are still not where the story is. So for these guys who feel outraged and betrayed and upset by what they call malignant or toxic feminism — well, what the hell, guys. Think about why you hear their voices; think about why you aren’t hearing other women’s voices. And then when you go and find their stories (rather than being satisfied that you’ve understood it all by making things up), and you think, “Well, that’s stupid, I’d have done X,” stop and assume for a moment, just for a moment, that these women aren’t stupid, and find out why they didn’t do X. Because that’s what will teach you, if you’ll let it.

  458. Amy Says:

    Victim #451:

    Presumably those who have been making a distinction between “structural” and “personal” would dismiss the horrific suffering of the millions of innocent victims of psychopaths as being merely “personal” rather than “structural”, and therefore not worth a moment’s thought.

    No, you’ve misunderstood comprehensively.

  459. Scott Says:

    Amy #439:

      your views on this matter (more) because of your position … you are not actually free, in that position, to regard yourself reasonably as an entirely private person. You will help shape important structures and your views, as you do so, will matter. Which is why they have to be smart and broad and nuanced and well-informed, and part of why this is a good conversation.

    On reflection, I wonder how much of the disagreement between us could be resolved by my simply reassuring you about how little power I really have, and how much less I aspire to? 🙂 I never want to be in any situation where I’m severely constrained in which opinions I can express or ideas I can explore because of administrative power (rather than by good constraints, like empathy or the desire for truth). All I want is the freedom to try to get to the bottom of things in conversation with others.

  460. Scott Says:

    Amy #381: Again and again you try to bring everything back to economics (and you said you’re not a Marxist? 😉 ). But I’m not sure whether it has any explanatory power here. It’s hard to doubt that are plenty of “feminists” of the vicious, Amanda Marcotte variety who have led pampered lives, and plenty of shy nerdy males who have faced economic hardship on top of all their other difficulties. I have no idea whether Scott Alexander was actually a “rich kid” or not, but if he was … well, what does that have to do with anything?

    Indeed, I’d make a stronger statement: my admittedly-limited experience has been that women who’ve faced real hardships in life tend, on average (and with plenty of exceptions), to be more empathetic to the problem of the shy nerdy male than women who haven’t. (Possible explanations are left as exercises for the reader. Incidentally, another pattern I’ve observed is that, among all women, lesbians tend to be some of the most empathetic to such problems.)

  461. pb Says:

    The debate surrounding the validity of vocabulary such as structural vs personal, patriarchy and micro-aggression persists. A meta-allegory, for the skeptics:

    My brother-in-law grew up on a tiny little island smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Many summers ago, my sister and I spent some time on the island. The first night we went stargazing, I was amazed at how the complete lack of light pollution allowed our galaxy to really pop out of the sky. “Wow! Look at how clear the Milky Way is, here!” I remarked, pointing to the band across the sky. “That’s the Milky Way??” my now brother-in-law responded. “I always wondered how a cloud could always be in the exact same spot in the sky!”

    My brother-in-law easily accepted the introduction of a new term to describe the phenomena he grew up witnessing with clarity. If, unlike my brother-in-law, you grew up in the city, (and for some reason didn’t either believe or know that our galaxy existed), claiming that there’s a permanent “cloud” to be seen in the sky that’s called “the Milky Way” might seem like a stretch. Before you discount its existence, though, you should do a little research and venture into the darkest area you can find.

    And Jake #429,

    For me, I can see obviously that life remains really hard for women, especially my peers in STEM, and all I can do to mitigate the problem is alter my own behaviour.

    An individual damping down on their own instances of committing micro-agressions is good, but does far less good than if they raise awareness of them in the population in general. Each instance of a micro-aggression, by its very nature, is not a big deal. What drives people crazy from micro-aggressions is that it’s so gosh darn hard to convince other people that they a) exist, b) are structural/predictable and therefore send a consistent overall unacceptable message*. You already sound like a good ally, but you can probably be an even better ally while worrying a lot less about your own actions!

    *Which, on a less allegorical note, is the reason for the vocab words I started with. Personal problems correspond to some reality of your life; they deliver no trends of inaccurate messages. I cried today because I had a fight with a friend, and somebody told me I looked sad, even though I don’t like it when people tell me I look sad. Structural problems, however, are so predictably off-target a person begins to feel like a prophet. Oh, how unsurprising, you’re claiming I’m getting emotional in an online debate in which I continue to disagree with you because you haven’t logically countered me once, despite me using zero emotional language ever. Each individual data point that sits directly on this inaccurate-for-you line is a microagression. Yes, some individual problems may be confused as microagressions because they will randomly fall on the line, but overall, this isn’t the case. No, I’m not claiming white males can’t have their own lines. One of the lines that starkly runs through the lives of most women (and men too) has a name, that for historical and anthropological reasons is called patriarchy. The word is so catchy and so widely used because it aptly describes so many perfectly overlapping lines.

  462. Ampersand Says:

    Scott, I would not defend Amanda’s response to your article, at all. It was vicious, stupid, and wrong.

    But I also wouldn’t say that Amanda has led a pampered life. You seem to have found the last week of internet abuse very stressful, and rightly so. But Amanda has been getting thousands of viciously abusive messages – and by abusive, I don’t mean people disagreeing with her politics, I mean people calling her a c**t and telling her they hope she gets raped to death – for literally years.

    I get my share of internet abuse (last week someone told me I should have died in the Holocaust because I drew a cartoon criticizing libertarians) , but I can’t imagine receiving the kind of abuse Amanda gets, nonstop for years.

    You wrote:

    However, I now understand why so many people became so attached to that word: if I won’t use it, they think it means I think that sexism, racism, and homophobia don’t exist, rather than just that I think people fixated on a really bad way to talk about these problems.

    I think you’re exactly right about why people react so badly to claims that “I’ve never had […] privilege.” Another example of how focusing on the word “privilege” doesn’t help either feminists or critics of feminism achieve clarity or understanding.

  463. Corey Says:


    He compares feminists to ravenous sharks who have shown up in massive numbers to explicitly tell him to die (“A feeding frenzy of feminists showed up to tell me I was a terrible person and deserved to die”).

    Not sure why you offer this quote. Have you considered the possibility that he was telling the straight truth about this event as he experienced it? It’s plausible to me that if enough people like the Marcotte-cheerleading commentariat (which is to say, ordinary humans, because Green vs Blue) got together in meatspace, they’d be capable of making that large of an own-goal; and it provides an explanation for the otherwise baffling intensity of his antipathy to feminists.

  464. Vijay D'Silva Says:

    Chelsey #422: Thanks for responding. I need to clarify because I was not talking specifically about people who are trying actively to listen. I was talking about all people and thinking aloud about the more general problem of: How does one create conditions in which (a) a person may want to know about the experience of other groups of people, and (b) the person receives information in a way that is meaningful to them.

    I read the David Graeber article and it provides further examples of how people use these frameworks. I don’t have a deep enough understanding of the discipline-specific nuances behind the terms he is using to know if the way I read the article is the way a person from the field would. I liked his point about bureaucracy and stupidity. However, from my first read, I do not agree with some of the theorizing in the article for various reasons: some of the examples seem class or culture specific to me (behaviour towards servants and of policement), some connections seem tenuous to me, I don’t feel confident about accepting the claims made about empires and regimes, and finally the structural example in the figure was less fleshed out than I would have liked. Now, I’m aware that he is a respected scholar in the field and I’m not rejecting anything he is saying outright, but just saying that it would take much more background reading for me to decide if I accept his arguments, and to identify precisely what bothers me.

    Unfortunately, it’s back-to-work time for me, so I have less time for reading much of this material (or even these comments).

  465. Vijay D'Silva Says:

    Maznakoff #411: There are social-equality movements in many many cultures and societies outside the Western world. It is dangerous to assume that methods that worked in one Western country will work everywhere else. Consider for example, how different the path to universal adult suffrage has been (and continues to be) in various countries.

    Please also note that the politically active feminist community does not have the same age and gender distribution in all countries. Why only “Western (female) feminists” and their “less fortunate sisters”? These are not issues that only concern women. We have mothers, sisters and many other women in our lives. Why should they (or any other segment of the population) be denied *anything* due to certain circumstances of their birth when that same thing is available to some members of the population by default? It does not help to say that things are less unfair today than they were a hundred years ago when the bottom-line is that things are still terribly unfair for various parts of the population for no fault of their own.

    In addition to what NoName #433 said, I hope this quote (from White feminists: Stop trying to save the Indian women in India provides some perspective) indicates where the kind of thinking in your comment can lead.

    We have our problems; we have lots of them. We will solve them, but we must do it our way. The last thing we need is for those who do not understand, cannot understand the dynamics within our country and our culture to show us how. What we do need is for all women to have access to compassionate human rights – it will never be done from a moral high ground that simply does not exist.

  466. M. Says:

    So, I’ve been following along for the last week or so. First of all, I’m blown away by the fact that in over 1000 comments between this post, and the Lewin post, no one has made mention of the feminist writer bell hooks, who offers some beautiful and highly empathetic insight in her book entitled “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” from which an excerpt can be found here. In fact, I haven’t stumbled across a mention of ANY nonwhite noncis feminist in over 1000 comments, which is… well, worrisome if you’re interested in fully understanding the breadth, complexity, and diversity of the feminist movement.

    Another noticeably absent part of this ongoing discussion is anyone mentioning the difference between 1st and 2nd wave feminism and 3rd wave feminism. The 1st and 2nd waves excluded anyone who was nonwhite, nonmiddle/upper class, noncis-gendered, and/or nonwomen, something that feminism broadly acknowledges these days is a massive mistake. The incorporation of queer (and other) theory into feminism, which formally happened in the early 90s, pushed 2nd wave feminists (like Dworkin) into obsolescence. Are there still 2nd wave feminists around? Yeah, totally; people like the radfems who don’t believe in transgendered rights. But basing your take on the entirety of feminism on people like that is akin to assessing humanity based on YouTube comments.

    (Both of those things leave you curled in the fetal position wishing for the zombie apocalypse.)

    Finally, I was very taken aback by Alexander’s excoriation of feminism and why this was what Scott (Aaronson) chose to share, instead of a more inclusive 3rd wave feminist perspective, one that embraces diversity, mutual consent, and autonomy of all involved parties and a dissolution of the gender binary (no patriarchy and also no matriarchy), among other things. That’s my kind of feminism, where everyone should be able to explore themselves – all their wants and needs – in a shame-free manner, so I’m going to share a piece directed at all the shy nerd baby feminists in the crowd, all the folks who say, “I want to get laid, but I’m afraid of oppressing women.” We need to work through and fully process old traumas (and I strongly suggest therapy for that), so we can stop existing in the past, emotionally reliving them, and be present now. We can sit here and constantly pick at all the things that were wrong, or we can find things that are right in the present, finding ways to move forward and create the love, inclusivity, and empathy for ourselves and others that we grew up lacking. Loving the imperfect struggling weirdo we all were/are is the most radical thing anyone can do, and I really hope more of us find ways to make that happen. It’s why bell hooks’ take on love and masculinity should be a must-read and is so, so important to this thread, even if you – like me – don’t agree with every single thing she says.

  467. Bill Says:

    @Dan #453

    Yes, of course you’re right. Certainty is seldom justified. Trying to be more precise, I suggest that where a woman is nowadays discouraged from studying or working in STEM, this rarely the result of institutional sexism, or patriarchal attitudes (except perhaps from her immediate family). Any discouragement is likely to be of the same kind that might be experienced by a boy.

    As mentioned by myself (#394) and others there are outreach programmes to encourage girls into STEM. Teachers have been on-message for decades. In Britain, college advertising and news stories are nearly always skewed towards the portayal of successful girls – not just in STEM but in any area of academic achievement. For years college advertisements would typically show girls and black boys, seldom white boys. Not surprisingly, we now have a serious problem of underachievement by white boys. Yet we still have a gender deficit in STEM.

    Yes, I do “honestly believe the most parsimonious explanation for (most of) the gender imbalance in STEM is nature”. Before telling me I’m wrong, please watch the Norwegian TV documentary (#437).

    I agree that my statement “simply untrue” has a burden of proof. All I can say is, “encouragement” of girls into STEM has failed to make a significant difference, and at least one person who has plied that trade for many years privately agrees with me (#394). How many times can you double the amount of encouragement before realising that your strategy is flawed?

    Let’s not get into a discussion of ethnic differences, because it would be wrong to hijack the thread into a subject that is both controversial and unrelated to the original post.

    @Many Others

    Though of course the thread has already been hijacked. An honest, decent guy describes the pain of his adolescence and early adulthood, a type of pain that is rarely acknowledged or discussed; and immediately a horde descends to say “What about WOMEN’S pain?” (which has entire University departments engaged in its study, shelfloads of books written every year, Acts of Congress designed to mitigate it, magazines devoted to covering it, and discussions every week in mainstream newspapers and on TV).

    Who has the power here? Just for once, wouldn’t it be polite to listen, discuss the issue at hand, and not try to make it about yourself or your designated victim group?

  468. Ron Says:

    I strongly recommend picking up Penny’s _Unspeakable Things_ which speaks directly to many of the issues in these threads. If you think feminism is hostile to men or unconcerned with men’s problems, Chapter 2 ought change your mind. In particular, Scott, it speaks of many of the problems which started these discussions. If you don’t understand why the other Scott’s rhetoric leaves many angry and unimpressed, or if you don’t understand why economics is an integral part of feminist deconstruction of power, I suggest reading this book as if it were ethnography: a glimpse into lives of folks who have lived experience very different, even alien to your own. If you are looking for understanding, it puts her short blog response to you in a broader context.

    One can’t do justice with a summary or quote, but here’s a bit anyway: “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.”

  469. Student Says:

    It would be nice to escape, yeah.

    (FYI: I’m going to use “girl” to mean “someone of female gender” and “boy” to mean “someone of male gender”)

    I am probably a “shy nerd girl” and I used to find solace in math and science. Still do, probably.

    And then I learn about gender, and it actually starts bothering me that every single name I see is a boy’s. It starts bothering me that the general person is a “he”. It starts bothering me when professors tell jokes in class that wouldn’t be funny if the genders were swapped.

    And the comments section seriously deteriorating into a battle of boys vs. girls. (Rule: Don’t read the comments, right up there by where it says Don’t read about feminism.)

    Because reading anything on the internet is several clicks away from wasting hours of my life staring straight into this abyss.

    And another thing…feminism is such a terrible word. You take everything that’s wrong with gender in this world and then turn it around that it’s somehow associated with girls? It’s as terrible a word as patriarchy.

    Do you really understand why people are angry that you said that your troubles were caused by feminism?

    There’s a grain of truth to what you said. My problems were “caused” by feminism, as well.

    There’s two sides to this. They’re both strawpeople.

    0. Wow feminists did something bad therefore feminism is bad
    1. Feminists are actually trying to fix things don’t criticize them it’s not their fault

    Okay, this is stereotypical. 0 can basically be incorporated into what you’d call “conservative” and 1 can be incorporated into what you’d call “liberal”. Same pattern, everywhere, anywhere.

    0 is a knee-jerk reaction to anything different and unfamiliar, because we have concrete proof that familiar things already work. And it’s prudent, after all new things can make things go horribly wrong, there’s plenty of examples in history to prove this, society is fragile and the things they suggest are new and untested. When we don’t like this thing we call it prejudice and discrimination.
    1 is an attitude that holds feminists, revolutionaries above any wrong-doing, and a lot of it has to do with anticipating the 0 that is always there. And I believe we all believe changing society for the better is a good thing.

    The 1 attitude frustrates those who are sympathetic to the 1, but see some things wrong with the 1 that needs to be changed. And the obstinacy of the 1 skirts those people closer to the 0. But 1 exists because they fear 0 in the first place. And so on. Vast portions of history can be interpreted as this tension between 0 and 1. History repeats itself. The only losers in this are people who really wish for gender equality.

    How do we get out of this? What we can say is that if we knew the answer to this we wouldn’t be here.

    The question is this: am I going to accept this trial by fire as the price to pay for society to accept anything new, am I going to accept the fact that shy nerds are put on the sacrificial altar for its sake.

    [And perhaps you have said that being a shy nerd girl is easier. Considering I don’t know what it’s like to be a shy nerd boy I’m not going to commit myself to saying whether that’s true or not, but making an unsupported statement like that that’s not that obvious (especially in light of the lack of visibility of shy nerd girls, and that most people haven’t gone through the experience of being both a shy nerd boy and a shy nerd girl to compare, actually that’s probably even harder) is going to draw fire, yeah. But suppose I accepted for a moment that it is easier to be a shy nerd girl than a shy nerd boy. Even then, it still seems to me that shy nerd girls have the ability to change reality much less.]

    Feminist is an overly-broad term indicating anyone who believes in gender equality. That means that I am a feminist. That means that half the commenters up there criticizing feminism are feminist. That means that vast swathes of the MRA are probably feminist, although they definitely wouldn’t identify as such.
    It turned out this way as a side-effect of the fact that the very first women who spoke out for gender equality were appropriated the term “feminist”, against their will, and is still derogatory today. (No one can make you feel inferior without your consent? Well, they can always engage in various degrees of trying.) It’s a way to reclaim that word.

    And well, on the flip side…there is patriarchy. Like feminism patriarchy also evolved into the kind of word that is broad, everything that encompasses how the genders are not equal. There is no feminism without patriarchy, and there is no patriarchy without feminism. It’s kinda like how if we lived in an alternate universe were everyone was a girl or where everyone was a boy we’re not going to have a word for boys and girls. Crazy, huh.

    Feminism is everything. Patriarchy is also everything. They’re terrible words. And being a feminist does not preclude one from being compromised by and being complicit in helping to propagate the patriarchy.

    So again, I ask: why were people scared when you said that your problems were caused by feminism? Because it’s a half-truth. When you say feminist, it’s a way to talk about the people who are trying to change the world without talking about the conditions of the world that motivated them to change it in the first place. Likewise, patriarchy is a way to talk about everything that is wrong as a force that is separate and that can be acted against by the people who are trying to change the world. What you really need is a word to describe the way this whole system interacts. Not just focus on the people who are trying to change things.
    Half-truths are a lot scarier than falsehoods, because people believe them.
    Look at those commenters, people adulating you like you’re their messiah, yep, I’m scared because they’re probably my classmates.

    Seriously, people like us who really want absolute truth should stay out of the social sciences.

  470. alex Says:

    there is no such things as reasonable or good feminists. those should rather label themselves humanists.
    present day mainstream feminists are harping endlessly on bogus statistics such as the gender pay gap or 1 in 5 college women being raped. many of the same mainstream feminists are advocating for a reversal of the burden of proof in rape trials or to lower the standards for conviction.
    if the aforementioned reasonable/good feminists were really interested in the good reputation of their movement they would actively address and distantiate themselves from the constant stream of outlandish claims of modern feminists but so far their silence is quite deafening.
    if you look for “good” feminists check out Christina Hoff Sommers or Cathy Young but they are labelled heretics by the rest of the movement.

  471. Dave Q Says:

    Two things:

    1) I’ve never felt bad about wanting women to have sex with me, because I always knew I’d be good to them in lots of other ways if they did.

    2) If I’ve felt guilty at all, it’s because I don’t want to sleep with ugly women. Not because I want to sleep with the good looking ones.

  472. Anon Geek Guy Says:

    pb @ #332: Speaking as a guy, I will happily acknowledge that typical women put up with a horrifying amount of shit, much of it invisible to most men. I know smart, capable women whose ideas are ignored until a guy repeats them 3 minutes later. I’ve read tales of conference harassment that make me shudder with horror. I’ve heard way too many stories of on-campus rape from friends. And perhaps worst of all, the gropers, the stalkers and the rapists seem to unpunished for years or decades, at least if they have any kind of power or connections. Honestly, just hearing about a small fraction of what women live with makes me twitchy.

    Chelsey @ #355:

    As for asking feminists to condemn other people claiming to be feminists… I think the reticence to do so comes from a pretty understandable place.

    Yeah, I agree that a lot of people have been absolutely brutalized by life, and they won’t be heard unless they shout. But at the same time, fighting against oppression can’t be a moral blank check that justifies absolutely anything, either. For example, I would never think poorly of somebody who said, “You know, I can see where Malcolm X is coming from.” But I would be deeply worried by any leftist who couldn’t argue convincingly against Stalin. I get nervous when I hear things that sound like “No enemies to the left”.

    I’ve certainly seen online social justice communities—interesting, well-intentioned ones—which believed something like “No enemies among the oppressed.” This worked just fine until they ran into a charismatic sociopath who knew how use the language of oppression, and who proceeded to tear those communities to shreds in a brutal manner. Sometimes, it really is necessary to criticize people who are supposedly “on your side.”

    Anyway, when I started writing this comment, I wanted to share another “geek coming-of-age” story.

    I went to high-school in the early 90s. I was a geek, subject to the usual abuse geeks received in those days: harassment, bullying, physical assault. I had been taught that fighting back was wrong, and that I should ignore people who made fun of me. But relative to some geeks, I had a decent amount of social privilege: I wasn’t “weird”, I had average looks, and I could defend myself physically against the bullies if I needed to.

    I certainly noticed a few weird things about romantic relationships. For example, there was a bully whose two favorite slurs were “f*g” and “c*nt,” and he was fond of physically assaulting guys with low social status. He never seemed to have much trouble with relationships. In fact, I once saw him followed around by a group of three(!) adoring students from out of town, and they were hanging on his every word. For maybe two minutes, I felt, “Hey, that’s really weird.” But it didn’t take me long to decide, “You know, I actually wouldn’t want to date somebody who’s totally into a guy like that.” Just to make things even more confusing, I once briefly thought a different upper-class jock was hot, although he wasn’t a massive bully.

    I had no actual romantic relationships until college—though I think I once accidentally turned down a good friend whom I adored (ouch), and I once got very publicly kissed by a student from out of town, which made me happy for about six months. So high school was bad, but not totally depressing.

    When I got to college in the early/mid 90s, Dworkin was still very much in the air, although mostly because anti-feminists were constantly using her as a stick to beat feminists with, and because feminists defended her, claiming she was being misinterpreted and taken out of context. I don’t think I ever heard anybody on the feminist side actually argue against her.

    But again, circumstances worked to my favor: I did feel shame at being attracted to women, but I also had female friends who were bi, or who liked porn, or who were happy to talk about BDSM and consent. And I was still occasionally attracted to a guy here or there. So I couldn’t stay very guilty for very long, because it was just sort of logically untenable to believe that “Male desire is inherently oppressive, but it’s totally cool that women can tie each other up and have fun with floggers as long as everybody’s really into it.”

    So yeah. Looking back, I can easily imagine how high school and could have been worse. Reading both Scott’s story and Ampersand’s story, I find myself saying, “Well, if I never met X, or if I were a bit less Y, I could have wound up in a very similar place.”

    And finally, some romantic advice for young, straight(ish) geek guys.

    1. You can’t make people fall in love with you. If they adore you, or if they want to get into your pants, you don’t need amazing social skills or “game.” (Ugh.) You mostly just need to notice, and not drop the ball too badly. These are both social skills, but they’re learnable.

    2. People like all sorts of different things. If you use what you have to your best advantage, there’s probably at least a few people out there who could be into that, especially if you seem to be happy in your own skin. In fact, other people place a surprising amount of weight on your own self-assessment. I’ve seen guys who rock short, heavyset and hairy, but only because they own it.

    3. As Dan Savage occasionally suggests, don’t worry about about getting “15-year-old you” laid. Worry about making “19-year-old you” an interesting and attractive partner. If your body permits, lift some weights and get into cardiovascular shape. Dress with a bit of personal style. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective. If you’re not entirely straight, pay attention to what makes some likable guys hot. Practice having fun conversations without steamrollering your conversational partner.

    4. Get out, have fun, and meet a lot of people. Don’t spend all your time searching for a romantic partner. Rather, try to live the sort of life that would be fun to share.

    There’s something really broken about the other dating model, the one which says, “My life is a horrible, pathetic mess, and I need a woman to fix it.” Basically, even people who would otherwise be into you usually won’t sign up to fix your life.

  473. Janet Says:

    This is sort of a random thought, but I think it’s important. I keep seeing statements here, and elsewhere, about how one or the other of the people involved in this discussion/controversy is really nice, and therefore it’s wrong to be so mean to them.

    The problem is that most of us don’t know each other personally. All we have is words on a screen. The words have to speak for themselves. I shouldn’t need to know that The Other Scott’s partner is a feminist blogger in order to be able to interpret his argument properly. Conversely, even if Scott, or Laurie Penny, or any of the other people who have been declared to be “nice” were an irascible, cranky SOB in person, it still wouldn’t make it all right to misinterpret and caricature and twist their words.

    A few years ago I was arguing about some misogyny coming from somewhere (I don’t even remember the context any more), and somebody chimed in and said “Oh, but he’s really a very good guy, he has an extremely egalitarian relationship with his wife,” etc. I was glad to hear it, but it didn’t change my opinion of what he had written.

    We are at the confusing and fraught intersection of the political with the deeply personal, and so the line between what is a fair criticism and what is an unfairly personal attack can be hard to draw. Some things, such as name-calling, obviously fall on one side of the line; but everybody is going to draw that line in a different place. For example, I think giving Laurie Penny the “Not The Worst Person award” crosses the line, but obviously a lot of people here think it’s perfectly okay.

    All I can say is that we should all remind ourselves that we can’t read each other’s minds. All we have is words on a screen. Do your best to make sure that your words say what you mean them to say.

  474. Maznakoff Says:

    NoName #433

    yeah I basically agree – if you read all my post, you will see that I am putting actual rape and sexual slavery (even in UK, the first world of course) in contrast to “microagresssions”. My point is, to hell with microagressions and let’s deal with the former with full force. What seems to me, some of the feminists say “leave it to us to decide what is worse – and we say it is not rape… only patriarchal pigs may think that rape is worse than … ”
    I am in fact extremelly horrified by the UK case you mention, criminal ring of Pakistanis forcing (nonpakistani) young girls into prostitution… my point, how can anyone with sound mind think that this is not the worst (short of outright murder)?

  475. Deborah Says:

    Like many of the other feminists commenting on this thread and the previous thread, I’ve been a bit frustrated by the fixation on Dworkin and second wave feminists. It’s like reading a book on computing written in the 1980s and thinking that’s a good enough basis to start engaging in the academic field of computing.

    If you’re interested in getting a better understanding of more contemporary feminism, then there’s a really good feminist site here: Finally, a Feminist 101 Blog. It’s a FAQ about contemporary feminism, and there’s plenty of linking and cross linking and referencing. It’s not designed to be the final word on everything feminist by any means, but it’s a good broad introduction to mainstream contemporary feminism.

    Some of the questions it addresses: What is ‘male privilege’?; Why ‘feminism’ and not just ‘humanism’; Isn’t ‘the Patriarchy’ just some conspiracy theory. You can find the questions and discussions here: FF101: FAQ Round-up.

  476. Eggo Says:

    Joshua Zelinsky, would you like to get someone to judge that bet we made?
    Even if you don’t want to bother, I’ll make that donation to RAINN on behalf of The Patriarchy. And hey, if you name your charity I’ll send some to that one, too.

  477. Later Rodent Says:

    I spent many hours reading #171 and the following discussion, and I found several things there that I’d never seen discussed before. It was a bit like that cliche moment when a gay/trans kid finally learns there are others like them out there. I learned that I wasn’t the only person who had these weird ideas and problems, and I really want to thank Scott for sticking his neck out like that.

    Sure, some parts were known, and some didn’t apply to me, but some I had really seen mentioned before. One of those is Scott mentioning how hard it is to imagine that women are even sexually interested in men. Like Scott, I don’t find men attractive – or unattractive – at all. Since women typically express their attraction in subtle ways, if at all, it’s easy to conclude that they have a much lower interest level. Maybe their real interest is in children, and they only need men for that?

    Two things that follow from this:
    1. The thought that “I should take a chance on that girl – she might like me!” feels like an extreme long shot, and a waste of time, energy and social capital.
    2. I assume that women, who obviously can feel their own strong primal desire directly, have a very hard time to even imagine men have serious doubts it even exists. One more way people misunderstand talk past each other.

    I’m from another country, and didn’t have any sexual harassment classes to terrify me, but as any brainy lonely kid I read a lot that I wasn’t always equipped to put in perspective. Including many angry feminist articles. No one ever seems to write about healthy normal dating and mating. I guess it’s taken for granted everyone knows how it works. Like Scott, I concluded that women typically do not want to be approached romantically or sexually.

    I haven’t experienced either, but this sexual harassment training sounds a lot like D.A.R.E. That’s the program where police go out to grade 5-8 and scare students with exaggerated stories about the dangers of drugs.

    Scaring kids away from drugs might cause them to abstain more than they would have. Scaring them away from approaching women is different, since that is something desirable, when done right. Maybe some potential harassers learn to moderate, but some great potential boyfriends are also scared out of the relationship arena altogether.

    I guess you can compare it to combatting obesity by scaring everyone, even the anorectics, to eat less.

    I think the lesson is that lying, even for a “good” purpose, usually hurts people.

    I hope to come back with some other thoughts later.

  478. Michael P Says:

    Dear Scott,

    I don’t think you have to go to a great length explaining yourself multiple times to those who refuse to listen. IMHO you are well justified to apply Eigenmorality/Eigendemocracy approach to rate the values of the opinions of those who intentionally or unintentionally misunderstand your point and prefer to indiscriminately vilify 1/2 of human population.

    P.S. Among 100 survivors of the human race you would pick 7+ complexity scientists?! 🙂

  479. pb Says:

    Anon Geek Guy # 472 – Simply, thank you.

    Bill #467

    You wave off the topic of ethnic representation deficits in STEM, even though examining them would be quite on-topic and surely put an enormous hole in your argument. But allow me to dissuade you of any notion that the leaky pipeline for women in STEM isn’t institutional. Sit tight for the following example, because the institutional sexism present has many facets to it.

    A few years ago I participated in the review of a STEM graduate department at a prestigious university. Usually graduate department reviews are ho-hum, but this particular one had a troubling component to it. 100% of male students were passing their qualifying exam on the first try; 75% of female students were failing the first try. The university has very rigorous admissions criteria, so the female students who were entering should have been every bit as capable of passing as the male students. So what gave? Both the students of the graduate department and a team of independent reviewers arrived at the same reason – women were failing the first time around because they stated during qualifying exams when they didn’t know something, and weren’t portraying an air of confidence. This was manifesting in this particular department because it failed to provide adequate preparation of students for the qualifying exam, in which they would apparently be taught to pretend like they did know something when they didn’t. When this information was read aloud during the institution-wide committee meeting, a very vocal condemnation of the external reviewers broke out (but not of the students), in which the sentence “What, was Larry Summers heading the external review team?” was uttered.

    So, what does this say about institutional sexism? It says that it took a periodic, required review to alert a STEM graduate department to the fact that they were failing to “prepare” their female students for qualifying exams, and to cause them to remedy the situation. It also says that, rather than focus on the fact that the students and external reviewers were essentially uncovering the idea that “acting like a female makes you fail your qualifying exam”, committee members were busy rejecting the notion that women might be cultured to behave differently than men. So not only is the success of females in academia judged on a stereotypically masculine model*, but the people who are in a position to change this culture are completely unaware of it. There are miles to go before sexism isn’t institutional in STEM. And we haven’t even (re-)touched on the issue of micro-aggressions.

    *It is beyond me why stating that you don’t know something should be undesirable in a scientific climate. It is an utmost necessity for scientific progress that a person can acknowledge a lack of knowledge; I think it greatly hurts scientific progress when puffing oneself up to appear larger than one actually is is the expectation. If this isn’t an example of institutional patriarchy/alpha-male-ism trumping logic, I don’t know what is.

  480. NoName Says:

    Hi Maznakoff,
    I’m sure we do totally agree on things that are abhorrent and awful. But I’m not sure why we have to disagree on the things that are seen as trivial — let me explain why.

    To keep this related to the topic at hand, look at how Scott’s plight was totally dismissed in some quarters as small potatoes, privileged whining. Nerds feeling anxiety and terror about their relations with women could hardly be said to be top of anyone’s agenda of things to fix, not with so much evil going on out there — right? But just because it’s not a crisis with the gravity and sheer horror factor of, say, the Rotherham mass rape case that we both mention, doesn’t mean it doesn’t warrant some compassion, attention, etc.

    Also, microaggressions (which I won’t scare quote) are real things, and they are about a trillion miles away from rape or abuse in terms of gravity, sure. Does that mean no one should talk about it or call it out? Of course not, because a guy entering a totally empty Tube carriage and sitting beside me and rubbing his leg on mine (which happened) is not a big deal in and of itself, but shows me that he gets off on showing he is dominant, that I don’t deserve personal space, that he likes being intimidating to a woman alone on public transit, etc. He’s signalling something deeply unpleasant about his state of mind.

    Kids test the boundaries of what they can do and get away with all the time, and you can see this boundary testing continue with adults. As an emblematic case: a Canadian man began with fetish burglaries (stealing panties). A little weird, but no one got hurt, and he didn’t get caught, and it wasn’t so serious anyway, so no one was trying too hard to catch the panty thief. He moves on to sexual assault. But he still didn’t get caught, so pushed the boundary further, eventually ending in homicide. http://criminvestresearch.com/case-study-former-canadian-colonel-russell-williams-escalation-fetish-burglaries-sexual-violence/

    Maybe we should question someone’s attitudes and behaviours before they get to homicide stage. Not respecting another human being’s personal space, property, and freedom — even in small ways — is a red flag. Not to take our eyes off of the big issues — no way. But everything starts somewhere… a pinch of prevention versus a pound of cure, or something like that.

    Again, we both mentioned the Rotherham case. How did that get started? Maybe something to do with attitudes towards women that were toxic to start with, but didn’t express themselves in any serious or criminal way. Then the grooming started, they saw no one was asking any questions… the rapes began, the girls went to police, the police didn’t believe them, so it escalated to pimping them out while continuing to rape them themselves, and on and on. I guess it started with just an idea that these girls (mostly in care homes, from lower class families) were trash anyway, no one would care. Sadly they were right, and it took reaching the scale that it did for it to cause some heads to roll. If someone questioned looking at these girls as trash in the first place, would Rotherham have happened?

  481. Anonymous Says:

    I don’t have much to contribute to this debate, in fact I admit I have not read all the comments even on this particular post. As a male (probably “nerdy”) student of science, I am not subject to any of the discrimination women face in science or elsewhere. Similarly, my experiences were not as traumatic as those Scott bravely shared. That being said, many emotions I felt growing up were similar to those that Scott expressed. I (like Scott) consider myself a feminist, and hope to do all I can to help remedy problems in our society related to patriarchy.

    I am really disappointed to see Scott attacked as a misogynist, as that label seems outrageously disconnected from the views he expresses in this blog. No one should be attacked for courageously sharing personal details from their past. Furthermore, calling Scott a misogynist for his contribution to this debate (rooted in his own experiences) seems very destructive to what we all want: for everyone to be welcome and comfortable doing what they want (within some legal restrictions).

    Scott, thanks for your courage.

  482. Meredith L. Patterson Says:

    pb @ 343, “If men like you don’t like the feminist rhetoric surrounding creeps, you can change this by coming up with a way to stop creeps yourself” is morally equivalent to “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

    Setting aside the repugnance of this equivalence, I submit that subjecting a class of people which aggregates around “applying reasoning to large systemic problems” to contingent stimulation (i.e., triggering rhetoric) is only going to attenuate their ability to apply their most useful problem-solving techniques, not to mention their willingness to. If sincere, it is an inherently self-defeating strategy.

    Of course, there’s always the possibility that the real payoff is just having an out-group to kick around, which is always a possibility in systems where psychology is a factor. Adversarial reasoning under uncertainty is hard.

  483. Laurie Penny Says:

    Hi everyone, particularly Scott at #312

    -I’d love to contribute to a piece on shy female nerds. I can offer some hard-bitten and definitely not cynical at all advice of my own !

    Scott, my best email is on my website, or Yan or Ed Platt (both of whom originally forward me the comment in question) can give you my contacts if you’d like to be in touch. Like I said, I live in Boston and feel I should at least take you for coffee/other random beverage, as I didn’t mean to bring you such a lot of perhaps unwanted attention. I apologise for not reaching out earlier- I’ve been travelling, and the post itself was originally just a long long FB comment that then turned into an article (as I’m a Nieman fellow, I’m not technically allowed to write!)

    Be well, Laurie x

  484. Kev Says:

    I’m not going to go point by point there about Ms Marcotte. Suffice to say, i disagree with your interpretation, moreso now then when Scott wrote the now infamous “Comment #171”, as much of the subtext Amanda was hinting at (well…OK, she didn’t exactly hint at it), has become more clear with Scott’s subsequent comments.

    Mind you, I don’t think Scott is a bad guy, nor a misogynist. I just think that there are some glaring blind spots when it comes to his own problems and how feminism may or may not have played a role in them. I find Scott’s favoured feminists to be curious at best, troubling at worst. I find his longing for the “shtetl” life (ie, everyone gets a bride!!!) to be a telling sign as well…

    Anyway, I can say I sympathize with Scott and others who had insecurities, I too did growing up, and hell, it took me longer than Scott to break out of my shell. I didn’t have his brilliance, but maybe that has helped me not blame outside forces. I don’t need to force everything into some binary equation. I can see “oh, i was just afraid of nothing, i’m not bad looking, and my life experience has now shown that there are plenty of women willing to date me”.

    Sadly, too many people lack this self awareness and instead try to invent a demon that they heroically triumphed over (ie, Scott saying that he was finally able to defeat feminism or some such rhetoric).

    I hope this long debate is helping some people look inward to their problems (hint: if you aren’t interesting to yourself, you aren’t interesting to anyone else, so get a hobby, get a passion. You’ll be surprised!). But I think honestly we are all too entrenched in our own camps to do that.

  485. Interested reader Says:

    Ampersand, #446:

    There’s a difference between “Laurie Penny says ‘I had it worse'” and “Laurie Penny comes very very close to saying ‘I had it worse'”. For an intuition pump, consider an article that compared male and female rape victims and said “Your suffering totally counts, female rape victims, but you didn’t have to deal with the cultural stigma against being a male rape victim”. Can we agree that you’d be giving that argument some serious side-eye?

    What about Scott Alexander’s stats that /even the least attractive/ women on dating sites get more interest than the least attractive men? Alexander’s point, remember, isn’t that SFN are more psychologically capable of getting a date than SMN, but that SFN should have a better success rate if they just ask.

    I think that you would be hard-pressed to argue that the success rate for the average nerd, male or female, is going to be less than 1% for just asking people, and that’s /still/ high enough that not asking and being miserable represents a market failure that needs an explanation.

    Scott Alexander may or may not be extremely attractive – I’ve never met him in person and I’m terrible at judging male attractiveness – but it seems statistically unlikely that all the people who’s writing about who are saying they are being mauled by bears aren’t being mauled by bears, what with all the pictures of bears he links to and so on.

    Ampersand, #452: Alexander describes Laurie Penny as an “extremely decent person”. The “Literally not the worst person award” is mostly a snarky way of noting that holy shit, somebody wrote an article and they’re not a vogon spy! I don’t think you can pin “characterising laurie penny as awful” on Scott here. You can disagree with someone without thinking they’re awful.

    The ‘feeding frenzy’ line is referring to an actual event that actually happened in the actual real world to actual Scott Alexander, and you know that.

    The text about anti-semitism is about pointing out a societal structure for othering groups of society that can at least vaguely apply here, not about saying that feminists are nazis.

    The typical response of /feminism/ and the typical response of /feminists/ is rather different. Typically, if you write something like #171, someone like Amanda Marcott will write a hit piece. Usually a different person each time. That is, the typical nerd who complains about something like this will get called an entitled misogynist pig, and the typical feminist won’t have called someone an entitled misogynist pig after they opened up about their pain.

    You seem confused – at every point Alexander talks about feminists, he’s talking about a specific viewpoint, or a specific thing. If you’re not a feminist who engages in nerd-shaming, you’re not part of the group Scott criticises for nerd-shaming. If you don’t mock people when they talk about their childhood pain, you’re not part of the group Alexander criticises for being Vogons. If you think that the hurt Alexander is talking about is because of “the patriarchy” and so can’t be the fault of feminism, or that privilege is remotely relevant here, you’re part of a group that Alexander criticised, but he hardly excoricated them.

    If you feel like you’re having a rhetorical superweapon being constructed against you, tada! Now you know what it feels like reading articles about nerd entitlement!

  486. One Woman Says:

    Dear Scott and fellow humans in the journey of life!

    I just read your post, many responses, and Laurie Penny’s piece. Thank you Scott for your honesty. I do believe that your experience and feelings are vey human. I think that Laurie Penny has some good points, as well. I have gone back and forth on Amy’s posts.

    Ultimately, every human has a different experience. For whatever reason (we all have our philosophies), some people have an easier time of life than others. When I was 4 years old, an older man in our neighborhood exposed himself to me, asked me to touch him, and did this in front of two teenage boys…for some reason. This led to the two teenage boys believing that it was ok to continue with this behavior and more. Did this mess me up? Yup. Have I worked hard to overcome this? Yup. Have I succeeded? Mostly. Do I need a feminist of any sort to tell me what is ok or not? Nope. I have been called “abnormally normal” on several occasions and take that as a nod toward the personal work I have done.

    My personal and political beliefs would classify me as a feminist and I’m OK with that. However, I would encourage all people, regardless of gender or lot in life, to become the best that you can be intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally and forget the label. If you can do that, and you live in a stable country/society (I’m reading NoName #433’s post about non-Pakistani women being forced into prostitution), you will likely attract a person who appreciates and loves you. If you aren’t “there” yet, you’ll attract a person who can teach you a few lessons. I had a few hard lumps along the way. Again, I have to point out that I live in the US and don’t have other societal issues like war or extreme views about women to deal with in my life.

    In the end, to Scott and others like him, embrace all that is wonderful about yourself. I love a smart man! The rest will come as you grow into yourself, like many people had to do. It is a great service to many people to know that they are “normal”. Thank you again.

  487. Lou Scheffer Says:

    I think an analogy with “food” and “nutritionalist” as opposed to “sex” and “feminist” is a nearly exact analogy, but it’s easier to see the viewpoints since it’s a less sensitive issue.

    In this world, Scott starts worrying about nutrition as a teenager. He consults the nutritionalist literature, and finds almost everything is bad according to at least one author. Taking the union of these recommendations leaves almost nothing he can eat without guilt. Furthermore, the main claim is “People are overeating! Eat less and you’ll feel better!”. Taking these views to their logical limit, eating nothing will minimize guilt, and and you’ll feel as good as it’s possible for you to feel. Scott is convinced that nothing is safe to eat and becomes anorexic.

    Much later, having recovered, Scott posts his experience and notes that at least some of the more extreme “nutritionalist” dogmas did not help, and his interpretation of them actually hurt. This is despite the fact that most of the nutritionalist literature is useful and helpful to most people, and that he now agrees with 97% of it.

    Lots of people chime in with “Lots of people don’t even get enough to eat!” You are privileged in that you could have eaten if you wanted to! And for the people who do have enough to eat, obesity is a much bigger problem than anorexia! Your problems pale in comparison and you have no right to complain!

    Amanda Marcotte says “It’s your own damn fault! You selfishly expected the food to appeal to you without any effort on your part. You’re an entitled asshole and deserve to starve!”

    I think most of us would realize these last two replies are not helpful to an anorexic person. The problem is not that they are not making an effort. The problem is that they have come to a mental model where all food is bad.

    The first reply’s problems, that lots of people do not have enough to eat, and others are overweight, are certainly real and certainly important (probably much more important on the whole). But the fact that others suffer from related problems does not mean Scott’s complaint was invalid. It means you have all these problems at the same time. Any rational person can believe in malnutrition, anorexia, and obesity all co-existing. (This brings up an interesting question of balance. More people die of obesity than anorexia, and more women are harassed than shy nerds are terrified. So conceptually, it could be that the right tradeoff is even stronger messages, depending on the partial derivatives. If you can get 100 fewer women harassed per each additional terrified nerd, then even more guilt-inducing anti-harassment courses could be justified. But I think it more likely that you can tweak the message to achieve both objectives simulataneously…)

    The second complaint, making fun of someone with a mental health problem, is just plain mean.

  488. pb Says:

    Hey there, Maznakoff #474, there are a lot of us feminists here, many of whom have been sexually assaulted and harassed. How about you ask us what we would prefer? Might that not be important to find out in forming your opinion about what should be done on this topic, instead of talking about us in the abstract, and what you think about our ideas?

    I personally think it’s necessary to work on both microaggressions and more serious sexual assault at the same time. The one helps the other, and vice versa, and working on one without the other is unlikely to succeed. What you’re proposing is akin to cutting out the tumor and leaving the cancerous cells in the bloodstream, untreated, because hey, the tumor is a much bigger problem.

  489. pb Says:

    Meredith L. Patterson # 482, I do not see these as remotely morally equivalent. In fact, I was pointing out the absurdity of the criticism leveled against feminists being close to “the beatings will continue until morale improves”. Only not, because I wasn’t saying non-feminist men were beating demoralized feminists, just that they were acting like the demoralized state was their fault, and I pointed out that the non-feminist men have the ability to do something about the problem that is demoralizing the feminists.

  490. Amy Says:

    Lou #487, while I like the food shift to the story, you wind up with the same problems. One, how many Scotts are we talking about (not an insignificant number, if you listen to all the “me too”s popping up here and elsewhere), what proportion of “public” in “public outreach” do they constitute (still probably pretty small), and, given the constraints of public outreach and policy work, is it possible to work some ameliorating message in without undercutting the main message, and, if so, is it worth doing in terms of outreach’s own measures.

    Two other thoughts on this, though:

    (1) this is a self-selecting group of young people who will read obsessively. You can compose a long and complex message to them (with summary) and they’ll read it if you plant it in the right spot. However,

    (2) if you listen to what some of the stories are saying, there’s no small component of “to the ends of the earth” when it comes to receiving the feminist message, and no little part of “I will do my bit, every last microgram, to save women from these horrors.” Extreme and pure and true and wholly rational are synonymous. These things are attractive to many very bright adolescents, along with revolutionary causes, all-the-way feats, and near-death self-improvement experiences. So you can preach reason at a 17-year-old who’s immersed in 1970s apocalyptic feminism, but is it going to speak to his heart? I’m guessing the success rate isn’t going to be wonderful.

    Which means that all you’re doing here for many — and it’s not nothing — is to plant a reasonable message which the young person can meet eventually. Will this person still blame feminism in the end for the torments? I’m guessing the odds aren’t bad, and that if the atheist/skeptic community’s any guide, in the end many such people will regard whatever part of feminism they were involved with as a cult that seduced them (and hurt and confused them) and that they’ve shaken off.

  491. Janet Says:

    Interested Reader #485

    “What about Scott Alexander’s stats that /even the least attractive/ women on dating sites get more interest than the least attractive men?”

    I would want to know how much of that interest is based on the idea that an unattractive woman will be grateful for the attention, therefore easily exploited — and hey, all cats are gray in the dark. This may sound paranoid, but such attutudes do exist and are common enough to be the subject of a lot of joking. For an unattractive woman, there can be a very real fear that a guy just wants to use you for easy sex.

    “Alexander’s point, remember, isn’t that SFN are more psychologically capable of getting a date than SMN, but that SFN should have a better success rate if they just ask.”

    I’m very much in favor of everybody feeling free to ask, and everybody feeling free to say no.

  492. Janet Says:

    Actually, I should amend that. I’m very much in favor of everybody feeling free to ask, and everybody feeling free to say yes, no, or let’s discuss it further.

  493. Jason Says:

    Scott, it’s not my place to offer advice, but I’m going to go ahead and do so anyways. I think you need to scrub your blog clean of anything gender politic related..Your a target, and their is a mob looking to burn..Everything here has been cataloged and preserved I’m sure but it’s harder to to access and disseminate tht information as a legitimate source.Maintaining an open forum on this topic is exposing yourself to harm.

    . I read through some your blog posts and you seem like a nice guy..Take it from a guy who is not always nice, your not having a novel exchange of ideas and their will be no friendly meeting of the minds, no reasonable resolutions. You and your thought’s, as expressed in this blog, represent a fight for firing position in a rolling brush fire war..

    I may be wrong maybe you want to be a lighting rod? Are you prepared? can you take the intense scrutiny? If so please disregard all that I’ve said. If not I would batten down the hatches and hope they go on to another target some other poor STEM SOB..

    Stop engaging , this is a zero sum game and your opponent is highly skilled in contemporary politicking. You may be the nicest most considerate guy in existence but all you are to them is a enemy caught unaware, they will lose no sleep if the exchange takes everything you love everything you care about.
    Take care, Jason

  494. Bill Says:

    @pb #467

    It would be interesting and purposeful to continue your discussion, but it is off-topic. I’ll give it a day or two to see whether the thread regains focus, and will reply if it does not.

    @Lou Scheffer #487

    This is a good analogy, on many levels.

    It is hard to find a good book on nutrition in a mainstream store. I tried some years ago, without success, although I could have purchased any of a hundred books promoting fad diets. Eventually I found a second-hand book that had been discarded by a public library, and its good condition despite its age suggested that it had seldom been borrowed.

    Finding an honest book on gender relations is equally difficult, and if such a volume existed, few people would want to read it. It would not be stocked in most shops, or ranked highly on Amazon.

    As you suggest, feminist books can be as damaging in corner cases (e.g. to male nerds) as well-intentioned “Eat Less!” books are to nutritional corner cases (e.g. anorexics).

    Even if we identified obesity as our number one health problem, we would not contemplate compulsory university courses on eating less; we might even understand that this would be harmful to some students.


    Part of the problem of being a “male nerd” (I’m not sure if this applies to female nerds) is that often we tend towards Asperger’s Syndrome, even if not to a degree that merits clinical attention.

    We are good at understanding and following rules; we are good at working out corollaries, for example. It is particularly hurtful when our interest in sex is equated with rape, because of all people we are the most likely to understand that “no” means “no”!

    Nerds are blindsided by a simple fact that nobody bothers to explain to us. As Bertrand Russell put it, every group has two sets of rules: those that it preaches but does not practise; and those that it practises but does not preach. Most people will pick up the subtle social cues that allow an understanding of the second set of rules. Nerds are not good at social cues, and so we constantly find ourselves in trouble for breaking one of the unpreached rules.

    The subject of courtship is particularly troublesome. Sex is a basic human need (for nearly all adults); perhaps 96% of us are heterosexual, and there are roughly equal numbers of men and women. How difficult can it be?

    Feminists often preach, but seldom practise, a puritanical criticism of any form of male heterosexuality (e.g. see comments in this thread).

    In contrast, something they practise but don’t preach is that (heterosexual) feminists, like other women, tend to be attracted to confident men. One man who took on board the feminist idea of “affirmative consent” was told by his date to stop asking permission for everything as if he were a little boy, and instead to behave like a man.

    But of course there is a difference between being attractively confident, and being domineering. Understanding the difference is a social skill that all men need to master, and for nerds this is both difficult and well outside our comfort zone.

  495. Ampersand Says:

    If you feel like you’re having a rhetorical superweapon being constructed against you, tada! Now you know what it feels like reading articles about nerd entitlement!

    This assumes I didn’t already know what it feels like to be a nerd reading articles about nerd entitlement.

    But I did already know that. Any point that relies on assuming I’m not a nerd, and don’t therefore know exactly what it feels like to be a nerd reading those articles, is illogical and wrong.

    I’ll thank you not to imply I’m not a nerd again.

    I’m also a little puzzled by your logic here. You seem to be agreeing with OtherScott that “rhetorical superweapons” are horrible and bad and evil when they’re directed at nerds, but you also seem to be saying they’re perfectly okay when directed against feminists. Why is that?

    What about Scott Alexander’s stats that /even the least attractive/ women on dating sites get more interest than the least attractive men?

    I have some doubts about the methodology of the study he linked – the photo of the “least attractive” (i.e., fattest) guy was an unflattering photo that looks like it was taken mid-laugh (often a bad look), while the photo of the “least attractive” (again, fattest) girl was much more flattering.

    But let’s look at the results. In the US section of the study, the least attractive woman received 1 unsolicited response, compared to zero for the least attractive guy. Not a large difference. The difference was wider (11 to 0) for the UK section of the study, but it took 4 months to build them up.

    Furthermore, we need to look at qualitative as well as quantitative reports. See, for example, this report from a guy who pretended to be female on OKCupid and was startled at how abusive many of the overtures he received were (and note the many women in the comments who collaborated his experience).

    The report that OtherScott linked to had conclusions that were radically different than OtherScott’s takeaway: “The worst looking men and women, unfortunately, are in a similar boat to each other—the ‘Not Much Attention’ boat… In the end men and women probably do have it about equal, it’s just a bit different for each.”

    What the study OtherScott links actually demonstrates is that when both men and women use the standard heterosexual dating script – which is to say, doing nothing but waiting to be asked – then women will get contacted more. It says nothing about the ways the conventional dating script is hard for women; it says nothing about how men and women do when both are using their own sex’s script; it does not prove that either sex has it harder overall; it does not address that the replies received may be from scarey abusive trolls rather than reasonable dating prospects.

    In other words, OtherScott is looking at things solely from a male perspective, and fails to consider ways online dating might be difficult for women (and especially for conventionally unattractive women, who have the combined disadvantages of being mostly ignored, with hearing from hostile men.) It’s a male-centric view of the world, and thus inaccurate; a more accurate view would need to take account of both female and male views.

    I think that you would be hard-pressed to argue that the success rate for the average nerd, male or female, is going to be less than 1% for just asking people, and that’s /still/ high enough that not asking and being miserable represents a market failure that needs an explanation.

    I wasn’t talking about “the average nerd.” Outliers are still people who matter. And I have no idea how “the average nerd” (let alone an outlier) would do, and neither do you, and neither does OtherScott. That an empirical question that we simply don’t have any data on.

    Furthermore, I don’t think the equation you offer is as universal as you may be assuming. I accept that some people are miserable if they don’t have a romantic relationship, but I don’t think this is universally true. For some people, the pleasure of a date would be not as good as the blow to the ego of 99 rejections. And it’s not like a date means “success”; for most people, a typical single date does not become a long-term relationship. And it’s possible that for many nerds, who often have social problems, the odds of a date turning into a long-term relationship are far lower than they are for an average person. So, really, finding that romantic relationship may require twenty or fifty or a hundred dates – and finding that many dates will require experiencing 2000 or 5000 or 10000 rejections.

    Perhaps you and OtherScott believe that’s a clear happiness equation, but it doesn’t look so clear to me.

    Regarding his opinion of Laurie Penny, the overall thrust of OtherScott’s article is that Penny’s article was ridiculously awful and the only way it looks good is by comparison to Marcotte. He argues (in the facebook bit he quoted) that it’s ridiculous to even credit Penny with compassion. I also don’t buy the “well, yes, he insulted her but really he didn’t mean it” rationalization you provide. You would never in a million years be that forgiving if Marcotte insulted a nerd.

    And yes, after insulting and trashing her again and again (often in snide asides), he also allowed that she’s a decent person. That doesn’t make all the abuse magically okay, or mean that the abuse didn’t happen. Again, I don’t believe you or OtherScott would accept this excuse for abuse if it were a feminist abusing a nerd, rather than vice versa. (Although Laurie Penny is a nerd as well, so I guess the rule is that abusing feminist nerds is cool.)

    You point out that droves of feminists showing up like sharks after chum to tell OtherScott to die is OtherScott’s personal experience. Am I required to believe without skepticism every remarkable claim made, when the claim is made without evidence?

    In the passage you refer to, OtherScott writes:

    When I complained that I felt miserable and alone, it was like throwing blood in the water. A feeding frenzy of feminists showed up to tell me I was a terrible person and deserved to die, sometimes in terms that made Marcotte look like grandmotherly kindness. This is part of the experience I write about in this post, and it’s such a universal part of the shy awkward male experience that we are constantly flabbergasted that women refuse to accept it exists.

    The “this post” OtherScott linked to there is a post which is mostly about me. I’m not speaking metaphorically; the post is literally written about me, personally, and says so, and links to a post in which I complained that I’m sometimes sad and lonely.

    And yet, even though OtherScott says feminists telling shy men to die if they complain about feeling miserable and lonely is “a universal part of the shy awkward male experience,” it’s not part of my experience. It’s never once happened to me. It didn’t happen to me in the post that OtherScott linked – and my post was OtherScott’s primary example.

    Do I buy that there are some feminists out there who are so horrible, so mean, so completely lacking in even the most basic compassion that they’d respond to a simple report of being miserable and lonely by telling someone to die? Sure, I buy that. There are millions of feminists, and I’d expect that some of them are terrible people. (Ditto for anti-feminists.)

    Do I buy what OtherScott claimed? No, I don’t. Unless we accept that feminists are typically monsters in human form – the very claim that you’re denying OtherScott is effectively making – it’s not a credible claim.

    Furthemore, it comes in the context of other non-credible claims, all of which are aimed at describing feminists or women as monstrous, evil people.

    “In my experience and the experience of everyone I’ve ever talked to, we’re bitter about all the women who told us we were disgusting rapists when we opened up about our near-suicidal depression.”

    So according to him, “everyone” he has ever talked to – does OtherScott’s conception of “everyone” include women, I wonder? – is bitter about “all the women” who told them they were disgusting rapists in response to someone saying “I feel nearly suicidally depressed.”

    I don’t believe that’s true. I can’t find even ONE PERSON I know who has experienced that even once, let alone multiple times. And if it is true, the only possible conclusion is that all women are monstrously evil people, because no one who is not monstrously evil would act in the way OtherScott describes.

    Or, more charitably, maybe OtherScott meant “feminists” when he wrote “women,” in which case it’s just feminists who are monstrously evil people, not women.

    Scott goes on to claim that a variety of anti-nerd insults (and words that aren’t actually insults, like “atheist”), when he goes to see who spoke or wrote them, are “always, always, ALWAYS” made by self-identified feminists. If that’s true, then Scott must live in a bubble, because non-feminists insulting nerds – for instance (and using one of OtherScott’s examples), saying nerds live in their parents’ basement – is incredibly common. Watch any Foxnews report where they talk about a liberal blogger, for example, and the “lives in basement” trope is likely to come up.

    Be honest – can you say you’ve never, once in your life, heard ANYONE but a feminist made an insulting comment about nerds? Do you really think that’s even a remotely credible claim?

    What all these incredible claims have in common is that they are describing feminists as monstrously evil, irredeemable, horrible human beings. And I’m not wrong to be insulted by that.

  496. Chelsea Voss Says:

    I’d like to add my voice to Lisa’s and Yan’s: 6.045, and later 6.845, were absolute delights. In fact, after two years, 6.045 is still my favorite class among all the classes I have taken here.

    I had no idea theoretical computer science even existed before one of my friends recommended, on a whim, that I drop in on a 6.045 lecture one day. Even though I had missed the first few lectures — the fourth lecture was my first — this lecture was so engaging, gave me so many new ideas and interesting thoughts, that I couldn’t help but add the class. I discovered a whole new world that day.

    It saddens me and angers me to hear that others have tried to discourage female MIT students from discovering this world. That’s just wrong. To any MIT students who might be reading this: Scott Aaronson is an awesome professor. Take 6.045! You won’t regret it!

  497. Interested reader Says:

    Janet, #491: Good point. And I agree entirely with the sentiment in your #492.

    Ampersand, #496

    In that case, interpret my comment as drawing your attention to the nerd-entitlement rhetoric looking like a superweapon.

    I’m not saying that rhetorical superweapons are fine against feminists and bad against nerds. It is, in general, impossible to criticise a subset of a group without members of that group interpreting it as a superweapon. I don’t think Scott Alexander is trying to build a superweapon. I’m certainly not trying to build a superweapon. Feminists writing articles about nerd entitlement probably aren’t trying to build a superweapon either. People don’t usually try to build them deliberately.

    I’m just trying to find an intuition pump to get you to understand where the discomfort with nerd-entitlement rhetoric is coming from.

    I’m going to drop the who-has-it-worse pissing contest thing – it’s not terribly relevant, I’m not very attached to either answer, and it’s not a nice thing to argue about. Feel free to interpret that as a win if you’re so inclined.

    You might not be talking about ‘the average nerd’ but they’re kind of relevant. The people contacting Scotts saying “Oh my god I thought I was the only one” are drawn from a distribution that at least vaguely resembles the distribution of nerds. If they were just looking for sex, being miserable is not a rational decision. Going and asking a bunch of people out is a much more rational decision. They are not doing that. The contention is that nerd-shaming is one of the reasons when it comes to male nerds. The logic isn’t unimpeachable – as you later identify, it’s not like nerds were high-status prior to feminism – but it’s not a completely empty argument either.

    I’m rather confused as to why you interpret Scott Alexander as being insulting or even abusive of Laurie Penny. The closest he comes to being insulting, as far as I can see, is damning with faint praise, which is hardly as extreme as, for example, your comments on OtherScott’s post. Remember, again, that from Scott’s (and my) point of view, Laurie Penny’s article is ‘femsplaining’ away a lived experience – “You say that feminist memes made you upset, but have you considered that maybe it was gender roles” is not all that far from “You say that being harassed in STEM fields makes you upset, but have you considered that maybe it was defying gender roles?”, and you’d have no truck with the latter argument I hope.

    Okay, you think Scott Alexander is lying. I hope you’re consistent and don’t have a problem with people claiming rape victims are lying. You kind of read like you’re bringing a personal animus with Scott Alexander into this.

    Yes, I’m aware that Radicalising the Romanceless uses you as an example. And I’m sure you’ve never exaggerated slightly for rhetorical effect. But if you seriously believe that nerds are not being told they’re misogynist pigs for saying “I’m sad and lonely”, you are /not paying attention/.

    And no, that claim doesn’t require the majority of feminists to be monsters, any more than the reality that women are sexually harassed requires the majority of men to be monsters. It just doesn’t follow. The claim is that some subsets of feminist culture – mostly modern, tumblr/twitter/blog feminism – has developed a stereotype of nerds as entitled Nice Guy misogynist neckbeards etc. etc., and that it’s not terribly selective about pointing that stereotype at actual misogynists. That nerds are, as a group, less sexist than the rest of society, so the stereotype is also wrong. That that stereotype harms subsets of nerds who care about not hurting other people.

    Individual people on Tumblr who reblog some meme of a fat neckbearded guy guy and say “lol” probably aren’t thinking too much about what people who identify with a particular social grouping but hear, the same way a guy wearing a girlie shirt at NASA probably wasn’t thinking about what women might feel the shirt says about them.

    Individual people who send a tweet to someone telling them they’re entitled misogynistic pigs when they would strongly contest that claim probably aren’t considering them as people much the same way the men who send abusive messages on dating websites don’t consider the people they’re sending messages to people. That doesn’t make them Hitler, it just makes them jerks.

    Minor point: The point of the ‘atheist’ comment is that sometimes instead of targeting ‘nerds’ explicitly, it’s ‘atheists’ or ‘bronies’ or some other group that strongly overlaps nerds.

    Major point: While actually given the media I consume and the people I interact with on a regular basis, non-ironic uses of ‘neckbeard’ and the like are strongly predictive of feminism. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same is true of Scott Alexander. And given that this stuff exists, maybe feminists shouldn’t be happy that some of their number are mimicking ten-year-olds and Fox News. And seriously have you never heard of rhetorical excess?

  498. Jake Says:

    As soon as I posted, I realized there was still a whole lot of clarification that I should have added. This comment section needs an edit feature! Oh well…

    For those who replied to me, first off, thanks for reading such a long comment!

    @ pb (#461):

    You already sound like a good ally, but you can probably be an even better ally while worrying a lot less about your own actions!

    Thanks! And I appreciate your understanding.

    I should have probably mentioned that, of course, I already do a lot of the other activism stuff too, at least to the extent that I can. I volunteer to help run Women in STEM orientations and related high-school outreach events, and try to confront sexism directly when I encounter it (as long as I feel sufficiently safe doing so). I keep my antennae out for when an environment is being unwelcoming to some of its members and try to fix it when I can. My Mech Eng. graduate lab at MIT, unfortunately, was one such case… an unbelievably toxic and high-testosterone place where even I felt unsafe, mainly due to a pair of confrontational and very aggressive male PhD students who reduced a friend of mine to tears but thought they were just “saying it like it is”.

    (I do prefer the term ‘feminist’ over the term ‘ally’, as the latter always strikes me as divisive by gender, but I guess I can’t pick how others label me.)

    But anyway, that doesn’t change the way I think about my own behaviour. Just imagine that guy who volunteers at the women’s orientation, being seen as flirting with the women there! What a creep! I do feel like I’m walking on a minefield sometimes, but I stick to doing what I believe in regardless, and so far I’ve stepped lightly enough that nothing has blown up… =)

    Maybe it’s “high scrupulosity”, or maybe it’s because my high-gain empathy antenna is tuned so sensitively for this issue (possibly from reading and parsing the experiences of some people online who have gone through some… pretty rough treatment). So for example I never initiate physical contact, and try to maintain a wide personal space especially when I’m alone with someone, even though at times it makes people think I’m cold or emotionally distant. Some of my friends have mistaken it for me *disliking* contact, which I don’t; I just struggle a lot with sending the right messages, so I let them ambush me with surprise hugs but never do that myself.

    @ Vijay (#456):

    You’re welcome, and thanks for your kind reply! I really, really appreciate it. I hope that nobody will mind if I derail the conversation even further.

    I actually haven’t met anybody else in real life who’s asexual… as far as I know. I think it’s kind of funny how long it took me to figure it out myself, but fortunately it wasn’t traumatic so much as a relief. In high school I joined the Gay-Straight Alliance as a straight-identifying person (in fact, the only one), and I think that was the first time I’d ever heard of the term ‘asexual’, but I didn’t dwell on the concept since it just is so infrequently discussed. I didn’t think I was any different than anybody else for a very long time, but I was so often confused by the things that people around me were doing. My first relationship ended when my long-term girlfriend demanded to know why, after almost a year, I hadn’t ever tried to have sex with her. I was just stunned like… “what? Was I supposed to?”. Even then I still didn’t clue in! But last year, during some introspective moments I searched online and found that there’s a whole asexual community, with a wiki and testimonies and everything, and what was written there so closely matched the bizarreness of my experience, and dissolved my confusion, that I concluded that was me.

    Most of my gay friends have known since their first crush (although it took them much longer before they told anyone). But I have one very close relative who decided recently that she is trans. She is far post-puberty and I’m sad that it took her so long to realize it, because the earlier the easier, and she will probably have a very difficult struggle.

    @ Amy (#449):

    How can someone like me put you at ease in conversation, in an actual room, so that you’re not worried that I’m afraid you’re going to attack me or some such? Is there any way?

    Yeah, that’s a hard question. Of course there’s plenty you could do to communicate your comfort zone and level of trust to me explicitly. But I honestly believe that it would be unfair of me to expect you, or anybody else, to put me at ease, as much as I would appreciate it, and I’ll explain why. I’ve thought about it a lot, and it’s a mathematically hard problem of picking up a low-prior-probability signal from a weak, noisy communication channel (for both of us). For you, the challenge is that it would be hard to detect that I have this problem. Cases like mine are probably rare enough that you won’t encounter me often, and I don’t show obvious outward signs. To be clear — this isn’t a crippling social disability that keeps me from interacting with women, and it doesn’t cause me to avoid eye contact or run away or avoid people or mumble. I’ve listened to my female STEM friends and those behaviours bother them more than anything else! I think I pull off a good job of being smart and ordinary and I make friends with females quite easily (much moreso than with masculine hetero males, who intimidate me). So you might not even notice; there’s not much that I do that conspicuously demonstrates my belief that you don’t trust me to begin with.

    I’m going to pick on the Schrodinger’s Rapist essay here directly, not because I disbelieve it, but to show why the fact that I believe every word of it causes such severe mental anguish for me. (Severe enough to be staying up writing about it when I should have been sleeping hours ago). If it’s been a while since you read it, please give it a fresh read, but through the eyes of someone like me. Someone who isn’t worried about meeting Schrodinger’s rapist, but who is worried instead about *being* Schrodinger’s rapist. Here are some excerpts:

    [from SR] The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.

    “But wait! I don’t want that, either!”

    Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing.[…]

    Just to be perfectly clear, I am fully convinced by that argument and essay, and I’m not being sarcastic here or anything. (I am not sure that the essay’s numbers are right, but I get her point anyway). I am aware that I have what some call “male privilege”, and others call “male blind spots”. That means that I accept that other people have experiences that may seem to me as unfamiliar and otherwise unlikely, but that I cannot use my own lived experience to assess the probability that they are true. I understand and accept this, but it also means that, to a degree, I am accepting that there is a major limitation in my own ability to understand the experiences of other people (especially women). When part of my mind jumps up and says “that’s ridiculous!! Nobody would be so afraid of me that they would take that degree of countermeasure in case I’m secretly a serial killer”, at the same time, another part of my mind jumps up and says “that’s what someone with male privilege would think. I have to accept that, as unlikely as it seems to me, it’s true.”

    Unfortunately, the path of accepting my privilege — of doubting my own judgement — is a slippery slope, because it doesn’t really come with a provision that if I *really* think something is unlikely, I’m allowed to believe it.

    What I can do, instead of attempting to use my own judgement, is talk to my female friends who I know in person, and who know me, to see what they think. And the majority of them claim they never feel close to that degree of unsafety or paranoia; they do as they please and take risks and never worry about being attacked or leave notes for their friends or the police. Even two who are rape survivors told me that they don’t feel that level of fear with them. But a non-negligible minority of them do. And they’re the ones I’m thinking of when I’m being so absurdly oversensitive.

    When I ask my friends about this problem, they are definitely surprised that I’m worrying about it. First of all because it’s not something most men talk about, and secondly because I’m one of the least-threatening people they’ve ever met… (I wonder why!). But they do generally agree that that’s influenced by having known me over a very long time, and if it were their first time to meet me, I could be intimidating.

    [from SR] How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?

    I don’t.

    When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

    I know that there’s not much I can do to be trustworthy, which isn’t also what someone *pretending* to be trustworthy wouldn’t also do. So I have to do what else I can to limit how much of a perceived threat I am to other people, even if that means not engaging in some behaviour that would otherwise be considered normal. (Or would be normal for someone of lower perceived threat level).

    As soon as I meet you, Amy, I assume by default that you don’t trust me. (It doesn’t mean I don’t trust you! I do! But my default is that you don’t trust me, because that’s the safest). Unfortunately this is a belief that is very hard for me to update based on ordinary interaction, because people don’t explicitly communicate trust in daily practice. It’s rude to directly signal low trust, and it’s dangerous to signal high trust. Instead trust is communicated by subtler cues which deliberately allow room for misinterpretation, so that if I don’t trust you, I can get that across to you without spelling it out and making you embarrassed and ashamed. And based on my low-trust prior, I update on subtle cues in a very pessimistic way.

    What this leads me to doing is behaving in a manner that never jeopardizes your trust, and some behaviours which result — a sort of blockheadedness, passivity, quietness, and distance — is both a reasonable and unfortunate consequence. It’s not how I’d necessarily like to act, but it’s how I do act, because I feel like I should.

    But it would be easy to confuse me for someone who really is just cold and distant and passive, and that scenario is so much more plausible that nobody could be reasonably expected to guess what’s going on.

    [from SR] Ask yourself, “If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?”

    These are the questions I *am* always asking myself, not just in cases of attempting to start conversation with a stranger, but in any case where I am not sure I have someone’s absolute trust. It’s hard to know how much is too much, because I can’t trust my own, male-privileged/blind-spot-ridden mind to accurately tell me what is the difference between an appropriate and an excessive degree of caution.

    And I know, I know, that I am an exception and not the intended audience of the Schrodinger’s Rapist essay, and the author would probably be horrified if she knew how literally I was taking it. But I also think that, if I *were* the kind of person who actually needs to listen even more carefully, I would probably still think that I was an exception.

    I’m not arguing you, nor am I arguing with the author of SR. I’m just trying to thoroughly explain my neurosis. =)

    Anyway, that’s enough of that; back to your comment…

    The usual kind thing to do in the circumstance is to give good directions, smile, and be off.[…] you don’t have to expiate sins you haven’t committed.

    I know that. And if I’m in a hurry, that’s fine. But if I’m not doing anything important, then it saddens me, a lot, that the reason I can’t be as kind to others as I’d like is because I know I’m a perceived threat. That’s when I start going into I-wish-I-had-been-born-female territory.

    Remember, a large part of my self-satisfaction comes directly from helping people! I’m not kidding about that. I’m not trying to repent for any sins or shame or any of that stuff. I’m not trying to appease and abide by feminist demands. I’m just a feminist, myself, and trying to live by my principles insofar as I’ve been able to work them out.

    Anyway, that’s probably more than enough talking from me…

  499. Amy Says:

    Scott #460 – I’d make a disappointing marxist, I’m afraid. Some things leave their fingerprints all over a person, and the Reagan years are among them. What I’m talking about is home ec and socioeconomic class, rather than economics, and I keep coming back to them for a good reason, not complicated. 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 it’s not because you’re confused or your attitude is bad; it’s because you don’t have enough money or any prospect of enough money. I asked you to make that budget, in the last thread, so you could see it, even if in the airiest, most bloodless way.

    A revelation for me, in these comments and related comments elsewhere, is that there appears to be an entire swath of commentariat that genuinely believes feminism to be about campus/date rape, gender identity, and bedroom politics. This is believable only if you are remarkably comfortable, materially — and to me it’s a mark of startling incuriosity, also ahistoricity.

    It’s depressing enough to me, and it’s late enough, that I’ll simply say that there’s a great deal more to feminism than that, and that unless one understands how fragile and arduous the lives of poor women are — particularly those responsible for the lives of others — I do not see how one understands the force and violence of sexism and misogyny in the lives of women around them. Economically to begin with because if you have nowhere to live and no money for your children, you can’t begin to worry about anything else until that’s solved. These are the most exposed people, for whom every bump in the road is dangerous. These are people who can’t afford to get sick or depressed. (And then one still has to look up the socioeconomic line at the costs — real, tangible costs — to better-off women and their families of bias against them.)

    Looking at that problem – the frailty of poor women and their exposure to damage by sexism and misogyny — as something that happens somewhere else, amongst other, terribly unfortunate but invisible people is to be blind to your own surroundings. Universities have lots of poor women. Genteel and bright and well-educated, and doing their best to fit in, but poor. You don’t know what it costs them to be there, or what’s falling apart in their lives when they go home. You’re at an elite institution, so this stat likely doesn’t hold true for you, but I just saw something yesterday saying that about half of STEM students go to community colleges first. You don’t go to cc because you’ve got lots of money, or your family has. You go there specifically because you don’t have money. And the students who leave for a semester to make money and stop digging a debt hole, and are forgotten…well, you don’t see them, do you. But they’re also part of university worlds.

    There’s a parallel to “sexual harassment isn’t happening or important because I don’t see or feel it” in “sexism isn’t damaging her ability to climb out of near-poverty because I’d have no problem with her working conditions.” I’m trying to think of a way of describing this blindness, and the first thing I think of is a well-meaning effort by my local Hillel director to draw attention to food poverty in the US. He decided he’d live on a food stamp budget for a month and see how it went. The problem, as wellmeaning as the exercise was, is that in no way does this simulate poverty — something he hadn’t thought about. This simulates a bad and meagre diet for an upper-middle-class person. If he actually wanted to eat like someone on food stamps, here’s what else he’d give up:

    – plenty of food for his kids
    – the ability to entertain friends, ever, without worrying about what his kids were going to eat in the last week of the month
    – a reliable stove/oven/fridge in a nice clean kitchen
    – decent cookware
    – the ability to drive in a nice reliable car to the supermarket to pick up his food
    – expensive containers to keep it fresh in
    – freedom to eat his lunch when he wanted to
    – a few decades’ experiments in cooking that relied upon good cookware and the availability of expensive ingredients like, say, seasoning beyond salt/pepper
    – the knowledge that this comes to an end in a month
    – the absence of fear that he’s going to earn a few extra dollars over the line and have his food stamps taken away
    – peace of mind about what he’ll do if there are bugs in the pantry because the guy in the apartment next door is disgusting (replace the food; not possible on food stamps)
    – the absence of despair at not being able to do better for his children.

    He’d give up his own world, in other words, and all of the buffer and safety and forgiveness that come with having more than enough money. Yes, he might find a limited diet unpleasant but tolerable for a month. The exchange of his own world, and his children’s, for the world of poverty? Probably a different story.

    When I hear well off — lifetime well-off — and, yes, influential people wondering what on earth their well-intentioned date request has to do with the way someone vulnerable is pushed around by the social structure they share, and returning to the question of who gets more hits on a goddamned dating site, men or women, and who’s being mean to them and how, I know poor women are (still) in trouble. Because these guys aren’t asking the right questions. They aren’t inquiring seriously about how the lives of more vulnerable people actually go, or thinking about sexism’s effect on them. Or, for that matter, misogyny’s.

    That’s why. And no, for me this isn’t theory. This is what I have seen.

  500. Anon. Says:

    Amy #499: being poor in the US is terrible, and worse than being black, homosexual, or female, in my opinion. If we’re trying to improve American lives, helping the poor is the single most important thing we can do.

    However, I still don’t see how this relates to gender issues. You keep talking about poor women, but there are more homeless men than women, and the gender of poor people doesn’t seem that relevant to me.

    You say “when I hear well off […] people wondering what on earth their well-intentioned date request has to do with the way someone vulnerable is pushed around by the social structure they share…”. Well, as a well-off person, I am still wondering exactly this. How does a date request add to someone’s burden? This is an honest question; I just don’t understand.

  501. Bill Says:

    “Microaggression” is the language of the hothouse – a safe, nurturing place where one is unlikely to meet real aggression, and perverse ideas are allowed to flourish unchecked.

    The appropriate solution to a microaggression is a microremedy.

  502. Anon Geek Guy Says:

    Deborah @ #475:

    Like many of the other feminists commenting on this thread and the previous thread, I’ve been a bit frustrated by the fixation on Dworkin and second wave feminists.

    The weird Dworkin fixation will make a lot more sense if you look at the timeline. Scott did his undergraduate work in, what, the early 90s? Back then, there was a particular bit of intellectual theater that I ran into every few months:

    RANDOM CONSERVATIVE PUNDIT: “Dworkin says ‘All heterosexual sex is rape.’ Feminists are a bunch of freaks.”

    RANDOM FEMINIST: “No, that’s a misrepresentation of what Dworkin said. She meant the under the conditions of the Patriarchy, it’s problematic to say that women can give actual consent for sex, except perhaps to other women. Anyway, even if I don’t agree 100% with Dworkin, she’s a very important feminist voice.”


    RANDOM WEEKLY PAGLIA ESSAY ON SALON: “I adore the Dionysiac masculine sensuality. Also, something weird and rapey.”

    EVERYBODY: “WTF, Paglia?”

    It was a strange intellectual atmosphere, and not necessarily a healthy one. To be fair, it certainly wasn’t the feminists who raised the subject of Dworkin. That was usually some oh-so-serious conservative newspaper pundit. But at the same time, Dworkin was absolutely “inside the tent”, and she was pretty routinely defended by real, live feminists.

    Today, the situation is very different. It’s easy to find feminists who say, “Dworkin’s attitudes towards female consent are infantilizing!”, or even, “Oh, god, Dworkin. Do people still read that?” But our host came of age in a different world.

    Amy @ #490:

    (2) if you listen to what some of the stories are saying, there’s no small component of “to the ends of the earth” when it comes to receiving the feminist message, and no little part of “I will do my bit, every last microgram, to save women from these horrors.” Extreme and pure and true and wholly rational are synonymous. These things are attractive to many very bright adolescents, along with revolutionary causes, all-the-way feats, and near-death self-improvement experiences. So you can preach reason at a 17-year-old who’s immersed in 1970s apocalyptic feminism, but is it going to speak to his heart? I’m guessing the success rate isn’t going to be wonderful.

    I appreciate the desire to fine-tune the messages that we send to scrupulous young people. No, seriously, this is a kindness, and very welcome.

    Fortunately, there’s some good news. For one thing, “1970s apocalyptic feminism” has now receded another 20 years into the past. You can find any number of modern feminists who know how to communicate with nerds, often because they are nerds themselves.

    Anyway, if anyone wants to know how to talk to young, male nerds, some thoughts:

    1. Desire-shaming and body-shaming are harmful. Everybody gets this, right? Phrases like “fat neckbeards who live in their parents’ basements” should not be used as a shorthand for “guys who seem nice until I turn them down, at which point they explode in weird rage.”

    2. Feminist theories which say, “Everybody gets to set their own boundaries,” and “Enthusiastic consent is the gold standard (see footnotes re: desire styles)” are relatively unambiguous and nerd-friendly.

    3. Young male nerds generally do have all sorts of blind spots they can’t see. Good, “101-level” ways of explaining this problem to them might be implicit bias tests and Jay Smooth’s ‘dental hygiene’ metaphor. Also, bystander intervention training looks promising.

    4. Looking at modern dangers (as opposed to Dworkin), it might be worth mentioning, “You don’t need to base your entire moral system around the angriest person on Tumblr thinks.” In fact, people with very high scrupulosity should probably avoid Tumblr in much the same way that people with orthorexia should probably avoid Paleo blogs.

    Amy @ #490:

    One, how many Scotts are we talking about (not an insignificant number, if you listen to all the “me too”s popping up here and elsewhere), what proportion of “public” in “public outreach” do they constitute (still probably pretty small), and, given the constraints of public outreach and policy work, is it possible to work some ameliorating message in without undercutting the main message, and, if so, is it worth doing in terms of outreach’s own measures.

    Now that I think about it, I suspect the problems with certain types of “social justice” messages and high-scrupulosity youth also affect a huge number of young women. If you took a female version of “young Scott”, and told her she had to spend 8 hours reading Tumblr flamewars about, say, “cultural appropriation”, there’s a pretty good chance she’d also wind up wracked with guilt over taking Spanish classes or eating Chinese takeout, or something equally off the wall. This is not actually a joke—I suspect that there may actually be a lot of young women hurting in various ways in certain corners of the social justice world.

    Anyway, I really appreciate and enjoy your engagement on this issue.

  503. Janet Says:

    Interested Reader #497 — well, I’m glad we agree on something. 🙂

    I think that when the issue of how people treat people in discussions is central to the topic at hand, then rhetorical excess is a very bad strategy. I’m generally not a fan of hyperbole, especially from someone who’s critiquing other people’s extreme rhetoric; if nothing else, it muddies the water.

    Saying that an individual person is lying (or at any rate misspeaking and/or being misleading), while giving evidence for it, is very different than dismissing as lies the claims of a whole set of people.

  504. Alethea Says:

    Scott! Amy! Hurrah to both of you, and thank you to the now many other rational men and women who have contributed to and enriched this conversation.

    Particularly, bravo to the host for not yielding to the temptation, which must have been very strong at times, to just put a halt to all of this, here, and leave a greater lurker readership with the impression that he was going to remain with the exact same set of convictions he had in mid-December. By being willing to both express yourself and to listen (in a way that is exemplary for some commenters and for which others of both genders have lit the way), you’ve opened horizons for a great many more people, which I hope is perceived as the praise it was intended to be for the educator you are.

    Here’s a middle-aged feminist’s perspective: there is a lot to give us all hope, in this and your last comment thread. The fact that it’s possible, despite much initial hostility and suspicion, to engage this many people and to find this many reasonable and open-minded ones in the lot – well, it made it worth reading the comments, after all.

    Last week, young Chris recalled a Whatever blog post from way back. Let me link to Scalzi’s follow-up, wherein you may recognize having been through a similar experience, and constituting a long-term Internet resource thereby.

    (And for posterity’s sake, here’s another recent example of a man’s appropriation of a woman’s scientific discovery and certain interests’ protection of that gesture coming to light once more. Smash the Patriarchy, indeed!)

    Really, let’s just continue making the effort to be fair to one another. Everyone deserves the same initial share of credibility and respect, before we pass judgment about any given individual. Some people will disappoint you, but some people will not only return your initial investment, they’ll pay you back in spades and additional rational commenters.

  505. Alethea Says:

    Hm. Messed up my last link – here it is: http://www.nature.com/news/down-s-syndrome-discovery-dispute-resurfaces-in-france-1.14690

  506. Amy Says:

    Anon Geek Guy #502, oh jesus, I am gasping for breath. I don’t know if it’s reasonable to *thank* someone for making the early 90s spring back to life, but for all you who weren’t there in the US on a college campus: ta-da.

  507. Anon Geek Guy Says:

    Anon @ #500:

    How does a date request add to someone’s burden? This is an honest question; I just don’t understand.

    I’m aware of several ways in which even well-intentioned date requests can be burdensome. I imagine that women know of more.

    1. When women say “No, thank you,” a minority of previously-pleasant guys will suddenly explode with rage and contempt. Even if this is only 5% of the time, it’s going to make women a bit nervous about future approaches.

    Geek advice: Try to figure out protocols which allow people to discover pre-existing mutual interest without making anybody feel threatened, and without forcing women to actually come out and say, “No.” Quite a few such protocols are in widespread use if you keep your eyes open.

    2. Even pleasant attention can become annoying if there’s too much of it. True story: A few years ago, I took up knitting. Female knitters are wonderful people, and very welcoming. But every time I walked into an event, a kind and wonderful person would say, “Wow! A guy! Who knits! That’s so cool.” This was fun the first 10 times. But eventually, it got really old.

    Geek advice: Try to model situations from other people’s perspectives. Before asking a woman out, ask yourself, “How many guys have asked her out in similar situations recently?” If the answer is “probably a fuckton”, then it’s probably not the best time, you know? Look for small groups with balanced sex ratios and high numbers of single people looking to socialize in a friendly fashion.

    3. Even if you’re a heterosexual guy, it’s no fun to have somebody just sort of awkwardly throw themselves at you and start obsessing about you. Sometimes, the chemistry just isn’t there, you know? But if somebody writes you weird, gushy letters, calls you up repeatedly while you’re trying to answer in polite monosyllables, and generally won’t take a hint, it gets downright awkward for everybody.

    Geek advice: Do not act like a bottomless pit of emotional need, and desperately beg other people to save you from your life. Not only is this horrifyingly awkward for the recipient, it’s also a near-universal turnoff.

    Anyway, does this help answer your question?

    Bill @ #501:

    “Microaggression” is the language of the hothouse – a safe, nurturing place where one is unlikely to meet real aggression, and perverse ideas are allowed to flourish unchecked.

    You know, I’ve always thought that hothouses were pretty awesome. Seriously, walking out of the deep cold of a Montreal winter into the Biodome’s jungle forest is amazing.

    Another name for “microaggression” is, “Same shit, different day.” It’s not one one lovely, friendly knitter saying, “Wow, a guy who knits!” It’s the 30th. It’s the pattern, not the individual remark.

    Every long-term couple (no matter how happy) should be able to understand the basic theory of microaggressions. When you live with somebody for a decade, their little bad habits and personal quirks can get seriously old, you know? Now imagine a single minor bad habit that happens to be shared by 80% of the people in a given culture.

  508. Ampersand Says:

    InterestedReader #497:

    Let me deal with this bit of ad hom at top:

    You kind of read like you’re bringing a personal animus with Scott Alexander into this.

    I actually like OtherScott overall. I’ve met a friend of his on a couple of occasions who has said only nice things about him, and I’ve linked to him (positive links) from my blog more than once.

    However, I’m hurt and angry because of his dishonest, demonizing attacks on feminism and feminists. I think it’s reasonable for me to be upset by someone making horrible attacks on my group. I think you’d agree with that if it were your group being attacked.

    Regarding “superweapons”:

    OtherScott’s original superweapon post, which was narrowly aimed at arguments that were literally and obviously saying “that you disagree with me is further proof I am correct,” was legitimate. But the concept has spread a lot over time. IMO, it is now used (or rather, misused) mainly as a way for people to dismiss arguments without engaging with them in a good-faith manner.

    I’m just trying to find an intuition pump to get you to understand where the discomfort with nerd-entitlement rhetoric is coming from.

    Here’s where I think the discomfort comes from.

    1) There is a subgroup of men who actually are bitter because (according to them) women choose to have sex/relationships with mean guys who mistreat them instead of with “nice guys” like themselves. This argument is a cliche that goes back decades, but it’s a cliche with a basis in reality – there really are men who say that.

    The “why do attractive women sleep with bastards instead of nice guys like me” argument is offensive for a variety of reasons, but mainly it’s offensive because of the assumption that the speaker is entitled to sex with attractive women because he is (in his own estimation) “nice.”

    2) So many men made this complaint in the comments of feminist blogs that feminist bloggers made a shorthand term for it – “Nice Guy (TM).” Feminists were thus primed to recognize this argument, and the false sense of entitlement underlying it.

    (Incidentally, the same thing happened to the “Nice Guy (TM)” rhetoric that happened to the “superweapon” rhetoric; over time, the term lost its original narrow application and, because it was used way too broadly, became an impediment to reasonable conversation, although unfortunately most of the people who continue using the term don’t see that.)

    3) Some nerds began making an argument that they have trouble finding relationships and/or getting laid (both of which are legitimate desires) because they felt that, due to feminism, any move they make could be misinterpreted as sexual harassment.

    Note that this argument is not rooted in a sense of entitlement. Rather, it is rooted in the genuine misery that (for many people) comes from not being able to find romantic and/or sexual companionship. Complaining about that misery is, in my view, entirely legitimate.

    4) Feminists felt, rightly in many cases, that they were being told that it’s feminism’s fault that many shy awkward men are lonely. (For many of us, our first encounter with this argument was when antifeminists used it to criticize us in comments.)

    Some feminists responded by treating this as a variant of the “Nice Guys (TM)” argument we were already primed for, and accused the nerds of feeling entitled to sex. (Amanda Marcotte’s response to Scott Aaronson is, I think, the worst example of this I’ve seen, because it combines being so very nasty with coming from a prominent writer.)

    5) Some nerds correctly took offense, because they were being falsely accused of having said or implied that they were entitled to sex, when they hadn’t said or implied that.

    So in my opinion, that’s where a lot of the discomfort is coming from. No one likes being falsely accused of horrible things.

    * * *

    I’m going to drop the who-has-it-worse pissing contest thing

    Oh thank God.

    The people contacting Scotts saying “Oh my god I thought I was the only one” are drawn from a distribution that at least vaguely resembles the distribution of nerds.

    They are a self-selected sample of OtherScott’s readers, and it’s unlikely their distribution resembles that of a random sample of nerds.

    First of all, obviously the nerds saying “ohmygod I thought I was the only one” are overwhelmingly (but not 100%) male, so in that way are not a representative sample of all nerds.

    Second, OtherScott’s bitter, angry antifeminism is relevant here, because his readers are likely to be much more open to agreeing with antifeminist rhetoric than a representative random sample of nerds would be.

    If they were just looking for sex, being miserable is not a rational decision. Going and asking a bunch of people out is a much more rational decision.

    Who said “they were just looking for sex”? Not me.

    That aside, as I pointed out in my last comment, there are costs – sometimes high costs – to “asking a bunch of people out,” which you seem to be overlooking. Constant rejection can also make people miserable. So it’s not necessarily irrational to decide that it’s better to do without sex/relationships, or to seek them in a different manner, than it is to ask a bunch of people out. Whether or not that’s an irrational decision depends on how highly an individual values sex/romance versus how much pain they get from experiencing rejection.

    This isn’t an important argument to me, and if you’re tired of it, feel free to drop it. If you do, I won’t take it as you conceding that I’m correct about this point.

    The contention is that nerd-shaming is one of the reasons when it comes to male nerds. The logic isn’t unimpeachable – as you later identify, it’s not like nerds were high-status prior to feminism – but it’s not a completely empty argument either.

    And I’ve never said, nor implied, that it’s a completely empty argument. I don’t think it’s an empty argument at all; I think it’s a correct argument.

    Okay, you think Scott Alexander is lying. I hope you’re consistent and don’t have a problem with people claiming rape victims are lying.

    Do I really have to tediously explain all the reasons that this parallel doesn’t hold up? I certainly could, but I’m frustrated and bored even at the thought of going into it. It seems especially pointless because two sentences later you essentially concede that OtherScott was lying, when you write:

    And I’m sure you’ve never exaggerated slightly for rhetorical effect. But if you seriously believe that nerds are not being told they’re misogynist pigs for saying “I’m sad and lonely”, you are /not paying attention/.

    This seems to be an admission that Scott’s claims are lies, but you prefer to label OtherScott’s lies “exaggeration.” At the very least, you’re admitting that the statements I flagged as being probably untrue, probably aren’t true.

    Have I ever used hyperbole? Of course. Have I ever lied and said that someone accused me of being a rapist because I told them I was depressed? No, because that would be a horrible thing to do. That’s not merely “exaggeration;” that’s saying that someone is monstrously evil.

    Why do you think that telling these monstrous lies about feminists is okay?

    If I said “every time I said I was feeling lonely, a hoard of nerds showed up and told me I deserved to be raped,” would you say that nerds would be wrong to feel insulted by that? Would you excuse my lie by saying it was just “rhetorical excess”?

    The rest of your post seems to be a motte and bailey, where you’re replacing the indefensible, dishonest claims that I quoted OtherScott saying, with paraphrases of his argument that actually replace the claims I’m criticizing with different, and much more defensible claims.

    P.S. Thanks for explaining what OtherScott was getting at when he said “atheist.” I didn’t understand what he was saying there.

    P.P.S. And by the way, the lack of tolerance I have for Scott Alexander’s vicious lies about what feminists have said? I have a similar lack of tolerance for feminists who use the term “neckbeard.”

  509. Max Says:

    So there’s been a lot of discussion in this conversation about whether the problems Scott discusses really relate to the environment in feminist communities, or if they’re entirely the product of his own personal issues, and the attribution to feminist messages is completely misplaced. One thing that’s come up a number of times now, both here and in other places where I’ve read discussions sparked by the same post and comment, is men who say that they found feminist messages genuinely helpful in disabusing them of entitled attitudes which prevented them from respecting women seriously as people. If for nothing else, I feel like it was worthwhile for me to witness this discussion in order to hear that, because as far as I recall I’d never actually encountered anyone claiming that experience before. I honestly was under the impression that, while these are messages a lot of men needed to take on board, those who’re receptive to them would almost universally be those who didn’t need to hear them. But it seems that at least for some people they’re doing real good, and I think that’s an important thing to know about the subject.

    But I’ll also chime in with my experience, which many who I’ve shared it with have related to, that as a person who already respected women as people, counted myself a member of the feminist movement, and certainly did not regard myself as owed anyone’s affections, I found that messages in feminist spaces really did add a lot of fear and anxiety to my life.

    The fact that I was a shy and conscientious guy sufficed to make me really careful about the ways in which I would express my attraction to people. I didn’t want to hurt anyone with an unwanted or inappropriate approach, and of course, rejection doesn’t feel good at all, so if I thought I was likely to be rejected that was certainly a deterrent. But to start with, it wasn’t all that bad. I was nervous and lonely, but it wasn’t a major source of stress in my life. I was always a romantic, and even if I was nervous about the whole dating scene, I still had plenty of hope of ultimately meeting a long term partner I really cared about, which was all that really mattered to me. I was of course aware of the messages of more toxic feminists like Andrea Dworkin, but was secure in the assurance that people like her were by and large just boogeymen whose names were only still discussed in order to discredit the reasonable sort of feminists with whom I associated.

    Time went on, and I didn’t get any better at the whole dating scene, or somehow luck into a great partner. I felt a bit sad sometimes, but not aggrieved or slighted. I didn’t want to be handed a girlfriend, or to have people console me about how unfair the world was that I didn’t have one, I just thought I’d appreciate advice on how to do better at seeking out a relationship. And of course, as many people have said already in this discussion, these days, there are resources in feminist spheres offering advice for awkward and frustrated nerdy guys. I was in social networks with the good reasonable feminists. I knew where to seek them out. I just found them to be mostly couched in condescension invisible to their recommenders, and so useless to me that I could scarcely imagine them being of real help to any actual nerdy insecure guy looking for advice. They felt more like ways for people to congratulate themselves for helping without taking the time to really look at things from the perspective of their intended audience (I never had them recommended to me by anyone in their alleged target audience, and developed the distinct impression that these sites did much more to cultivate an attitude of “look how helpful we can be!” from people who didn’t need them than they did to educate anyone.)

    I didn’t complain about this. Not because I didn’t think it was a legitimate problem worthy of address- if the feminist community is attempting to provide relationship advice to people who need it, but not doing a good job, surely there was nothing wrong with me as a feminist pointing out the space for improvement. I didn’t complain because I saw other people complain, and the results were ugly. People were attacked with the accusation that if things didn’t work for them, they must be bad people deserving of their lack of success. And I couldn’t take any solace in the knowledge that this wouldn’t happen to *me*, as a good committed feminist who didn’t have those problems, because I saw this happen to people who I knew personally, people who were just as considerate and committed feminists as I was, of whom I knew the accusations to be completely unfair. I tried to defend some of whom I was particularly confident that the charges were ridiculous, and this opened me up for attack too.

    That was pretty much the start of it. It opened up my eyes to the fact that, when I brushed off generalizations about men behaving badly as not being about me and not worth my getting affronted over, I realized that I was mistaken. To many of my fellow “reasonable” feminists, these generalizations presumptively *would* be about me if I set a toe out of line. I saw this happen to more people, took stands more often, and started to realize just how little I could trust my “reasonable” feminist communities to be fair to anyone to whom any allegation of impropriety might stick.

    Not wanting to hurt people or be rejected made me cautious. But uncharitable feminist communities made me terrified. I became convinced that if I made one wrong approach, the worst case scenario wasn’t that I would receive a humiliating rejection, but that people I liked and cared about would turn on me and see me as unworthy of their respect or friendship. I saw this happen sometimes. I saw it *maybe* happen, cases where I didn’t know the side of the story of the person under attack, and nobody doing the attacking did either, but there was room for it to plausibly be entirely reasonable, happen almost constantly. And the anxiety it caused me was tremendous, far greater than what I ever inflicted on myself with my own shyness.

  510. Scott Says:

    Amy #499:

      A revelation for me, in these comments and related comments elsewhere, is that there appears to be an entire swath of commentariat that genuinely believes feminism to be about campus/date rape, gender identity, and bedroom politics.

    Do you not understand how a reasonable person could get that mistaken impression? Look at Jezebel, at Gawker, at Salon, at the stuff Amanda Marcotte writes. They’re the ones who many people (rightly or wrongly) take to be the voices of modern feminism, and they’re the ones who focus heavily on what you might consider to be the problems of rich, privileged young women. You can’t blame male nerds for this one. 🙂

      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.

    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?

    I’m sure you have arguments for why that isn’t a valid response. I too could give reasons why it isn’t a good response. But the fact that it doesn’t even occur to you as a possible response, makes me feel like you’re still measuring success in life almost entirely in terms of economics, which is not the way most people measure it.

  511. Bill Says:

    @Anon Geek Guy #507

    Re: Microaggressions

    That’s a good answer, but only to a part of the issue.

    A bad habit is thoughtless, inconsiderate behaviour. It is seldom actually aggressive. The appropriate microremedy might be an apology, and making an effort to break the habit and understand why it gives offence.

    To bracket microaggressions with serious sexual assault, as one commenter has done, is unhelpful, and might itself be considered a microaggression against people who have been seriously sexually assaulted, because it trivialises their experience.

    Yes, hothouses are great places. When making rules for the hothouse, remember that they might not always be the most important rules for life on the outside.

  512. Shmi Nux Says:

    It seems to me that it would be good to first agree on some very basic common denominator: it is wrong to attack those who are already depressed because they hate a big part of themselves they are unable change. It could be a shy nerd, a fat kid of any gender, a “wrong”-skin-color student, a young woman in a sexist male-dominated field, an aspie who cannot read social cues, an addict… (Not all of those end up depressed and self-hating, but let’s consider those who are.)

  513. Alethea Says:

    Let’s say she understands that it’s a possible response.

    You do also understand that a woman in a tight economic situation, may not have particularly wanted to be the one left with the financial as well as emotional responsibility for having or bringing up children?

    Also, being from Boston, you must remember this from earlier in the year, right? Tiffany Guyette was never able to get married and have kids. I could imagine that most well-meaning young males might have dismissed her as a teen-mother-high-school-slut while she was alive, and that she didn’t deserve to die for it, but not think more than that about the situation.

  514. Alethea Says:

    Ah, one can’t insert images here. Anyhow, economics does factor in to some extent:

    Among whites, single-mother families are more than six times more likely to be poor than married-couple families. The ratio is also high among African-Americans, Asian-Americans (four times more likely), and Hispanics (more than twice as likely).

    As Scalzi wrote in the link I forwarded, you can’t cover it all. But it’s not bad to be aware of these other factors.

  515. Amy Says:

    Anon #500: Sexism weighs very heavily on poor women.

    When a poor-but-recently-employed guy tries to get a job, he’s a guy trying to get a job. It’s assumed that he’s got absolutely nothing between him and a job but opportunity. Whatever hours, he’ll work ’em, and he should (still) get the job first, because he’s a man and needs to provide. It’s also expected that if he’s got a woman, she’ll do whatever is necessary to support him in keeping that job, including taking over any of his duties at home, and that if she doesn’t, she’s a bitch. Also, if he’s a decent, nice guy, other guys feel bad for him and try to give him a leg up so he can feel good about himself again. Because good job = self-respect. (The exception is customer-facing low-wage work, where people want to hire women.) The emergency is all about his self-respect.

    When a poor woman tries to get a job…well, first of all, she’s not just there as a candidate. She’s being scrutinized for dating potential and threat to established relationships. (That’s right, she can get fired for being too hot.) If she has children or anyone else to take care of, she’s almost certainly going to be the one scrambling to make care arrangements for when she’s working, and because she’s poor, they’re likely to be rickety and depend on favors from other poor people with unstable lives. If she can’t find anything, she can get arrested for trying to work or for going to job interviews (required by welfare rules), and have her life and the kids’ turned upside down by CPS and custody loss. She’s thought of as a candidate for low-wage jobs — retail, admin, bank teller, childcare — rather than higher-wage trade jobs, where there’s a long history of women being shut out for various reasons. (Physical strength is always a great excuse. I used to hear it in aviation as a reason why women shouldn’t fly helicopters.) The idea that she *actually needs to make money*, and isn’t a stay-home mom looking to get out and make a little pin money, is somehow lost to the idea that providing is for men. After all, can’t she get a guy to make money for her? And besides, men’s self-respect. And besides, if she has to she can always be a prostitute because that’s not dangerous or anything.

    She’ll also be judged at work in ways that men won’t be. Lots of boyfriends? Refuses to date the boss or the boss’s friend? Or, god help her, she files a complaint about harassment or discrimination? She’s easy to get rid of; she has no job protection.

    The usual way up for women is through school. So a woman borrows a ton of money and goes for something that’ll make money, or so she’s told. She goes technical. Well, there are pink-collar ghettos there, too, but say she says screw that, I’m going for gold, I want a BS. (She may not know at this point that she’s going to have to go to grad school, too, because that expensive BS won’t get her very far.) So she gets to school and she’s very together and mature because she has to be, and hey presto, more bias and more and more and you get the idea, and that’s without the professor trying to date her and even expecting that she should be grateful he’s interested because he’s got money/status, and becoming insulted when she turns him down*. (*As in yes, that happened to me. Oh, and then there was the creepy prof who kept after me and told me he knew I wasn’t interested in him because he had cancer. No, that wasn’t why.)

    So after all that she’s one of a few who makes it through and she finds it still doesn’t stop (or see many stories in this book). And it means she works harder than men do for substanially less reward (nb I haven’t finished watching this one, but what I’ve seen so far accords with stories in the book above).

    About homeless men: There are actually a fair number of initiatives devoted to helping homeless people, the majority of whom are men (in the US), and my understanding is that biggest obstacles there are (pdf warning) mental illness and addiction , rather than societal biases against homeless men’s going out and becoming self-supporting, supporting families, etc. (The vast majority of homeless mothers in shelters have been severely physically or sexually abused, according to that report; again, this is part of the problem with being a poor mother, married or not: one often can’t afford to leave one’s abuser, and the problems in job-finding/keeping noted above don’t help.) While we do miserably as a society in helping those with addiction and mental illnesses, when we talk about those, we’re (obviously) talking about illnesses that a person has, things it would be good to cure or accommodate. The condition of being female is not an illness.

  516. Ampersand Says:

    Anon Geek Guy #502, that was hilarious, and I’ve really enjoyed reading your comments here. But I think your memory is inaccurate.

    Yes, feminists in the 1990s (and before, and after) deny the lie that Dworkin said all hetero sex is rape. But rebutting a lie is not the same as defending Dworkin in general. And contrary to what you say, there was an enormous amount of feminist criticism of Dworkin (and of her writing partner Catherine MacKinnon) in the 1980s and 1990s.

    That’s when the “feminist sex wars” were taking place; there was a huge fissure within feminism, and the flashpoint for much of the fighting was the MacKinnon/Dworkin anti-porn ordinance. Public debates took place, critical articles published, entire books of feminist criticism of MacKinnon/Dworkin were written, like “Defending Pornography” by Nadine Strossman. (Published in 2000, but it summed up arguments Strossman had been making for at least a decade).

    The Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force (FACT) was formed in the 1980s, and included Betty Friedan – arguably the most prominent feminist alive – Kate Millet, and Adrienne Rich. They argued that the MacKinnon/Dworkin view was sexist against women; MacKinnon, in turn, called FACT a bunch of male supremacist apologists.

    The argument that Dworkin’s attitudes towards female consent are infantilizing of women was dead common among liberal feminists in the 1980s. If it seems otherwise now, that’s only because so much writing from the 1980s isn’t indexed and available on the web.

  517. Amy Says:

    Scott #510 – people who have enough don’t measure it in terms of money, no. People who are trying to get by, just survive, most certainly do. They don’t have any choice. It’s of tremendous consequence, whether or not you can pay your rent. And the people in that boat — that’s a very large chunk of this country. I’m not unaware of the “but you had children!” response, & will get to it later today.

  518. Amy Says:

    Scott #510 again – and oh, yes, certainly, I can see that the voice of feminism online is “we have time to worry about this shit because we’re fine and in fact Daddy-the-banker-or-whatever still helps with my rent.” Where my eyebrows go up is when nerds — smart people, right? — look at them, and look at planet-of-the-women feminism, and it doesn’t occur to them: There must be more to it than this. If it’s that big a deal, there must be something else.

  519. Ampersand Says:

    Max 509, with all respect, I think your post illustrates a catch-22 that feminists are in.

    If we don’t write and publish flirting and dating advice for shy guys – or if we do publish the advice, but people aren’t aware of it – we’re told we’re heartless, anti-male, etc.

    But when feminists do write flirting and dating advice for shy men, we’re told that our advice is useless, condescending, and shows that we’re bad people who are just being self-serving. (Basically what you just said.)

    Can you see how that seems like a catch-22?

  520. Amy Says:

    I should amend my #512. If you work your ass off for decades, and you do okay — you’re okay. But if you do that and then you look here, and you look there, and you see that somehow mysteriously all these guys did really, really well, much better than you, and you know damn well they didn’t work harder for it than you did, you start looking around, like this Valian person did. And when you find that sexism — little things — accounts for much of the gap, well, then you understand that you got robbed. And that can leave a bitter taste.

    If you want more on why those things matter at the top — who has money to throw at causes and office and philanthropy, men or women — and how they reinforce sexism at the bottom where all the dollars count, I’d refer you to Robert Reich — yes, another economist. But money makes the rules, and the rules, as I was trying to show you in that divorce-stories story, shape powerfully how we live.

  521. Davide Says:

    This whole thing reminds me a little bit of gamegate, but especially of this: http://skepticalscience.com/Debunking-Handbook-Part-2-Familiarity-Backfire-Effect.html (even if here we are talking about myths about your beliefs not myths about science).

    Maybe you can use the suggestions here: http://www.skepticalscience.com/Debunking-Handbook-now-freely-available-download.html to make the life of gamegaters-like people harder. But as that teaches us, you will always lose.

  522. Ampersand Says:


    It seems to me that it would be good to first agree on some very basic common denominator: it is wrong to attack those who are already depressed because they hate a big part of themselves they are unable [to] change.

    I agree with this. I very much doubt that anyone in this debate disagrees with this.

    Even Amanda Marcotte. If you ask her, I think she would say that she criticized Scott, not because Scott said he was depressed, but because Scott denied that male privilege exists or applies to nerds. As Scott correctly observed, to feminist ears, denying male privilege like that sounds like denying that sexism against women is a problem at all.

    Of course, Scott does NOT deny that sexism against women exists. And I’m not defending Amanda’s post, which I think was wrongheaded, mean, and grossly mischaracterized Scott’s argument. (If she hadn’t quoted Scott so extensively, I would say she lied.)

    What I am saying is that everyone in this debate – even the OtherScott I’ve been criticizing so much, and even my friend Amanda – sees themselves as trying to do the right thing.

    No one that I know of is saying we should attack people for being depressed and self-hating. If you think that people are saying that, or believe that, then I think you’re misunderstanding their view.

  523. Amy Says:

    I wasn’t quite fair in that one about the online writing. In amongst the sex-and-gender posts, the feminist sites do post a lot of stories about how institutional sexism blindsides poor women. Enough so that sometimes I stop reading because it’s too depressing. But I wonder how many guys reading stories from those sites actually read stories like that, or whether they’re mainly interested in the stories to do with sex and gender. I can certainly see a lot of young men just skipping the stories about, say, working mom gets arrested for leaving daughter to play in the park. And I can also see that that kind of story maybe isn’t one of the many that get forwarded around to “feminism is crushing us” blogs and reddits.

    I really don’t know, and it’s not as though I’ve done an analysis of, say, Jezebel content to see what proportion really is non-thigh-gap stories, ones that show much more directly what sexism does to women’s lives. It’d be interesting to see, though.

  524. Otto Says:

    Scott, I’m so glad you understand that Patriarchy is just a synonym for negative gender roles. Now if you’ll repeat after me:

    “Beware those who say they are Feminists, but reinforce the Patriarchy, for they are not True Feminists”

    This includes tabloid morons like Amanda Marcotte, who claims to be Feminist, yet delights in twisting the words of any man professing loneliness into “gimme sex”. Men wanting nothing but sex is just another harmful stereotype which reinforces the patriarchy.

    Amanda Marcotte is a False Feminist, and it’s only when people like her are cast out that Feminism can stand pure.

  525. Bill Says:

    @Alathea #504/505

    a man’s appropriation of a woman’s scientific discovery

    As I suggested earlier, the idea of theft by a man seems to get feminists’ attention much more than when first-class work by a woman scientist is merely overlooked. This is ironic, because feminists are the first to tell us we should notice and value the work of women scientists!

    While I deplore the use of lawyers and bailiffs by the Lejeune Institute, at least Gautier shared authorship with Lejeune for their discovery, and they failed together to win the Nobel Prize.

    It would be kind of cool for Gautier to belatedly win the Nobel Prize, without her co-workers who are now ineligible because they are deceased – the very reason Rosalind Franklin was not eligible to share the Prize with Crick and Watson.

    However, there are other women scientists whose work is of Nobel calibre. If I were able, I would nominate Vera Rubin (see #437).

  526. Sniffnoy Says:

    EVERYBODY: “WTF, Paglia?”

    Now there’s something we can all agree on! 🙂

  527. Alethea Says:

    @Bill #525 Aw, shucks. My first-class work gets overlooked all the time 😉

    Seriously, though, I think that the answer lies in that overlooking is harder to prove due to sexism than appropriation. There is another clue in this, though: in biology, at least, there is documented gender bias in publications, which are the measure whereby a scientist’s work is made known and NOT overlooked. More recently, and including physics this time, the observation has been validated independently, and shows some finer-grained variation among fields and depending on authorship position.

    The paragraph beginning:

    Once we’ve identified the gender gaps, the next step is to explain them.

    is particularly worth a look and may address some of your earlier doubts about institutional aspects to discouraging women in STEM. Just to say, that once again it depends on the feminist to whom you’re speaking, whether or not overlooking a female scientist’s work gets sufficient attention.

    I know it’s not a subject of as much interest to you as to me. I only brought up the example of Gautier because of your having mentioned other examples apparently bandied about by feminists as examples of appropriation, although I personally didn’t know of the first and had not heard there was much credence to the second.

    Some of us wondered if we couldn’t crowdfund enough money to purchase Watson’s Nobel when it went on auction at Christies and offer it to Franklin’s relatives, but at $4.1M final price, it didn’t really seem attainable. Profiling scientists like Vera Rubin or Nicole Le Douarin and their major contributions is more within our grasp. I’m not a physicist; what do you think of these scientists’ contributions?

  528. Anon Geek Guy Says:

    Scott @ #510: First of all, thank you for “comment 171.” My experiences were of much lesser magnitude, but along a vaguely similar vector. And I was rather appalled at the way Marcotte’s piece used that “Translation: [Something horrible]” convention to make you look like a cartoon villain.

    That said, I wanted to comment on your hypothetical young male geek:

    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?

    Now, to be fair, I was never under any serious cultural pressure to get married, raise a family, etc. I know that some cultures push that really hard. And of course, you said, “I too could give reasons why it isn’t a good response.”

    But even so, that passage makes me think, “Wow. Somebody’s really… missing the boat. I don’t even know where to start.” If your hypothetical young geek yearns for a romantic relationship so much he envies broke single mothers for their “Darwinian success stories,” he’s bringing a whole lot very weird baggage around on first dates. Most women will not have room in their closets for that baggage, you know?

    I kind of get a similar feeling when I stumble across some MRA or PUA rhetoric. Their fundamental view of heterosexual relationships has a horrible internal logic, but it’s an alien logic, totally unrelated to healthy, successful relationships as I experience them. MRA theories always make me think of this passage from Chesterton [TW, discussion of mental health from 1908]:

    The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s.

    Nevertheless he is wrong. But if we attempt to trace his error in exact terms, we shall not find it quite so easy as we had supposed. Perhaps the nearest we can get to expressing it is to say this: that his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle.

    When I encounter that whole MRA/PUA vibe, I can always imagine a variation on those conversations: “You know, maybe women aren’t really engaged in a conspiracy to get knocked up by alpha males and then lie about it? OK, I’m sure you can find a few, but the vast majority of women don’t seem to act like that. Treat them like humans and it mostly works out OK.” “Aha! Of course they’d say that! That’s exactly what you’d expect them to say, you Beta Bucks loser!” The minds of the MRA/PUA types really do move “in a perfect but narrow circle.”

    Your image of the young geek, envying half the screwed-over people in the world, because they’re “Darwinian success stories”? It kinda gives off the same vibe. The cure for that young male geek isn’t to argue with women and win, because YUCK—it’s to somehow break out of that “perfect but narrow circle” and see the much larger and richer world around them. Unfortunately, it’s sort of hard to explain how to do this, which is much of the problem.

    Ampersand @ #516:

    But I think your memory is inaccurate.

    …The argument that Dworkin’s attitudes towards female consent are infantilizing of women was dead common among liberal feminists in the 1980s.

    It’s not my memory which failed me, but rather my horribly incomplete experiences with feminism at the time. Thank you very much for filling in the history; it’s genuinely cheering to know that Dworkin was less representative of the mainstream than I had thought.

    I did eventually hear voices that focused on consent and desire, but they mostly came from LGBT activists and some very sweet BDSM folks. Most of them were of course feminists, but they were first and foremost friendly fellow geeks. If I’d been less lucky in my friendships, I probably would have subjected myself to a lot more guilt and agony.

    As for romantic advice, there are quite a few feminist geeks out there who have a lot of great stuff to say. I would have loved to read Captain Awkward or Emily Nagoski back then, for example.

  529. Shmi Nux Says:

    Ampersand #522:

    If this is as uncontroversial as you seem to think, then the next step would be to discuss whether this applies to Scott as described in the Comment 171. If so, then a person in this situation deserves support, and not ridicule. If you get Amanda & Co to agree to that much, it would be a big step forward to finding some common ground. However, I have my doubts that she or other radfems would agree to endorse a statement similar to the following:

    “it is wrong to attack those who are already depressed because they hate a big part of themselves they are unable to change, and Scott_171, as well as many other shy nerds (among other groups) are some of those people.”

    Maybe with a qualification or two to start.

    Though Amy here would hopefully agree to at least that much.

  530. M. Says:

    I’ve sat on my hands here for a long time, and Scott (#510), I don’t mean to knock you down; believe me, I know there are only so many hours in a day and you can only study so many things, but saying that sites like Jezebel and Gawker are primary sources of modern feminist thought is like saying you understand the rigors of research because you read Popular Mechanics. You can maybe glean a few things, but you’re missing out on the real deal (especially if everyone continuously cited this discussion are white ciswomen). Gawker and Jezebel are written to be color commentaries for women’s issues, just like they are for… oh yeah, everything else they cover.

    And this is something I’ve been wondering; if the combination of it all – extreme anxiety, shame, self-loathing, and the particular brand of feminism you exposed yourself to that reinforced those feelings – felt so abjectly horrible, what was missing at the time to catalyze the change over to a more inclusive kinder philosophy?

    I’m the same age as you, and even though I grew up with “feminism” being a bad word, starting at around 17, navigating life became less and less about rigorously adhering to what I was told/read about, and more about if it felt bad to do a thing, I stopped doing that thing and found a more me-friendly alternative. In that way, perhaps we’re different people.

    So, my other questions for you are, without trampling on others’ rights, what should happen so people who identify with your particular brand of social anxiety and shame stop suffering? And if you could go back and tell your younger self something to make his time less painful, what would you tell yourself beyond “it gets better?”

  531. Vitruvius Says:

    As I have explained previously in this discussion, I have always considered myself to be an equal-rights humanist in the sense that all human beings should be considered “equal upon principal” (Lincoln) and that all human beings should be judged solely on the “content of their character” (King). Therefore, I have always considered myself to be a feminist, because I have always thought feminism was a form of equal-rights humanism.

    However, the behaviour in this discussion of Amy, Chelsea, &c, the behavior of MIT in the Walter Lewin matter, and my discussions over the last several days with a number of senior females whose opinions I highly value and who disagree with the fashionable and trendy feminist nonsense, have now convinced me that feminism as it is practiced in the 21st century is in fact sexist, that it is anti-male, and that it is not in favour of equal rights for all, rather, it is in favour of special rights for females. Thank you Amy, Chelsea, MIT, &c, for helping me see the errors in my previous beliefs.

    Therefore, while I continue to consider myself a classic humanist as described above, I have now changed my position from being feminist to being anti-feminist, since I no longer believe that feminism is a form of equal-rights humanism, and I am adopting a new maxim: “Feminism ⊆ Sexism”.

  532. Max Says:

    Ampersand 519:

    I don’t think it’s at all the case that feminists cannot give dating advice for shy nerds without it being condescending and useless to most of the audience. I think non-useless, non-condescending, feminist friendly advice is a mostly unfillled niche online, but that doesn’t mean it’s unfillable.

    I don’t think the lack of communal charity that experience introduced me to (and I certainly experienced a great deal more afterwards) is a double bind of any kind, although it is a hard to fix coordination problem.

  533. Interested reader Says:

    Ampersand, #508:

    The thing is that I find it very hard to read Scott Alexander’s writing as some kind of generalised feminists-are-monsters thing. I can’t see it as particularly insulting to Laurie Penny. I feel like I’m not reading the same text as you are. Personal animus seemed a reasonable explanation given how furious you were in the comment thread. If that’s not the case, then I’m still left confused by the very different reading we’ve ended up with.

    Your summary of the feels there does read at least broadly accurate to me – there are some things I would disagree with, but nothing central.

    I’ll drop the nerd-distribution argument.

    My comment re: Scott Alexander with lying is specifically referring to his claim that when he was in university he, at one point, was confronted by a ‘feeding frenzy’ of feminists etc. etc. You say that that’s a remarkable claim and you don’t believe it on that basis. I don’t think SA is exaggerating for rhetorical effect here. I think he’s honestly describing something that happened to him.

    The principle difference here is that you don’t think “I was raped” is a remarkable claim, because you’ve read enough feminism and statistics to know that a lot of women are raped. People who play the “Were you /really/ raped?” game probably don’t have that experience. Rape is a big weird thing to them, one that they’ve never thought of as happening to someone – that is, it’s remarkable.

    I’ve seen enough dogpiling from internet feminists to not think meatspace dogpiling is particularly unlikely.

    I think the things SA exaggerated were the quantifiers: ‘always always ALWAYS’ and ‘every’ and ‘universal’ and so on. Replace them with “With a high probability” and I think the statements are true as stands. You’ve seen Marcott’s piece, you didn’t think much of it. What SA is saying is that the vast majority of nerds who say something that can be pattern-matched to “Women are bitches because they won’t sleep with me” will run into a Marcott, and that there are people in internet feminist spaces who don’t think too carefully about what stereotypes they promulgate about nerds.

    I don’t see what I’ve claimed as a motte vs SA’s bailey, they really read like the same claim to me. Can you explain? Keep in mind that “Most nerds who say X get a response from a feminist saying Y” is /not/ the same claim as “Most feminists say Y in response to a nerd saying X”. Similarly, saying “Most nerds are bitter about all the women who Y” is not the same as saying “All women Y”.

  534. Anon. Says:

    Anon Geek Guy 507: thanks for your response, and I agree with what you said. While it does clarify things, my original confusion was about how this relates to poverty. On this question I remain baffled. I can see how a date request can be burdensome at times, but it seems to me on a different scale (and in an orthogonal direction) to the burden of poverty.

    Amy 515: There’s a lot to unpack in your post. You mention a lot of very serious problems that women in our society face. I am very sympathetic to your situation. I have a few comments though.

    1. Several of the problems you mentioned apply only to single mothers (and not other women), and in fact would apply to single fathers just as well. I don’t think that’s necessarily a gender issue.

    2. While you mention some very serious problems, you also mention some other problems or attitudes that you perceive that I’m not convinced are prevalent, and that I think represent your own biases more than society’s. Unfortunately, these become tangled so that it’s hard to tell them apart or to know what to believe; each reader will use his own biases and life experiences to decide which anecdotes in your post to accept as universal and which to accept as unusual rare cases. That’s why statistics are important in these discussions.

    3. Some of the problems faced by poor women sound like a result of their lesser physical strength rather than of discrimination. (You call this “a great excuse”, but it sounds like a valid reason not to hire someone for work requiring physical labor). This is still tragic, of course.

    Finally, you provided an article that argues there is a bias in the life sciences against hiring women. This is really important, and I’ve never seen it before. Thank you! For others, here’s a direct link to the study:

  535. Bill Says:

    @Alethea #527

    LOL, doesn’t all our first-class work get ignored!

    I have to be honest when I know I’m outclassed, and all of the contenders in the Slate article outclass me, at least the ones whose work I understand.

    Do they deserve the Nobel? Some have the misfortune of having done theoretical work that has not yet been confirmed by experiments – in these circumstances Higgs and Englert had to wait 50 years, and Peter Higgs said frankly that he had not expected his predictions to be confirmed in his lifetime.

    Perhaps a Nobel Prize will be awarded for the experimental work on the Higgs Boson, but particle physics experiments have a genuine problem nowadays with the huge number of collaborators (usually more than 100). Who, if anyone, should win the prize?

    Perhaps Jocelyn Bell Burnell deserved the prize; perhaps not. Vera Rubin is the one whose work stands out to me as unquestionably original and important.

    Re your evidence on gender bias in publications, now you’re talking, and thank goodness there are actually some hard data to discuss. The data reported in the Nature blog make an excellent case for universal double-blind review.

    The ArXiV study begs a couple of questions, even if its general results are valid. Many scientists do not use their full given names in publications, only their initials, and so the inference of gender is often impossible. The preference for initials may be correlated with age, which would confuse the study if the gender ratio has changed with time.

    Also the practice of putting the senior researcher at the very end of the author list is not universal – it may vary from country to country and subject to subject.

    Perhaps, as the article suggests, there is such a thing as a “confidence gap”. A slightly older version of this theory is that women suffer from “imposter syndrome”. I wondered what this strange term meant, and on further reading realised that I had had imposter syndrome for 30 years. Had it stopped me publishing? Heck no, even if occasionally I had had to work on my own dollar. When the ArXiV article bleats about a deficit in self-promotion, self-citation, and negotiation, it isn’t even close. It is a matter of attitude, and determination, and persistence.

    By all means, make whatever changes are necessary to the system of publication and career progression to ensure neutrality, fairness, and meritocracy. This will be of benefit to us all, but unfortunately it is rather a difficult task. The easy and lazy fix is to say instead “we haven’t got enough women at rank X in department Y, so it’s time for some affirmative action”. I hope you can agree that the lazy option would be bad for women as well as everyone else.

    I suspect that institutional bias is even more important than gender bias. When I was active in publishable physics research, it was a constant source of frustration that certain laboratories seemed to have an easier time getting their work published in Phys. Rev. Lett., which in those days had a requirement of “general interest” (its hoops are slightly different now). A kind and only partly sarcastic colleague explained to me “but Bill, if you worked at Bell Labs then your research would by definition be of general interest!”

    I now work at a startup, and at some point I would like to write up some of my unpublished work. A professor friend asked me which institution I would use for my address. He was deadly serious. He was pointing out that if I used my home address, or the address of Acme Home Shopping Inc., my paper would be treated as if it were a purported refutation of Special Relativity handwritten in green ink.

  536. Raven on the Hill Says:

    Anon Geek Guy, #502: big grin. My spouse laughed at the “Eep.”

    Deborah, #475: “Finally, a Feminist 101 Blog,” great, thanks! Now I have something more current I can cite. I especially like this from their readme: “Because some disruptive commentors on feminist blogs are deliberately vexatious, some FAQs and op-eds are specifically directed at those kinds of particularly vexatious questions and are somewhat sarcastic in tone. If you do not engage in vexatious disruption, then such sarcasm is not directed at you, so please don’t bother being offended about it. Just ignore it and move on to the material that is directed at genuine seekers after knowledge instead.”

    I wish Scott’s introduction to feminism had included such a sensible remark.

    Oh, now that’s a thought. What a about a “feminism for young adults” book that includes that kind of context? that explains that Andrea Dworkin is scary, yes, but not the whole of the subject? That gives the literature and also explains why so much of the literature is so very angry?

    I wonder if perhaps that book already exists.

    Scott, #439: “…my simply reassuring you about how little power I really have, and how much less I aspire to…”

    You are a leading scholar at a leading research institution, and you have quite a bit of influence. You aspire to, at least, respect for your work and yourself, which is a kind of power. Your denying it is not at all reassuring! You have written other things that concern me. Please, please, look at yourself, look at what you are saying. I’ve seen people commit themselves to thoroughly toxic beliefs and actions through this kind of reasoning, and I would hate to see you—or anyone—go down that path.

    Time was, nerds and feminists were sometimes allies; there was a common enemy in brutal models of masculinity. Time was, computing was proud of the women in its ranks. Oh, not everyone and everywhere. There was plenty of sexism—there could hardly not have been. But compared to almost every other scientific and engineering discipline computing was once a lighthouse of gender egalitarianism. Perhaps it is not too late to reclaim this camaraderie.

    I do hope, at least, that Scott meets with Laurie. Scott, thank you for the willingness to entertain this discussion and for undertaking the time-consuming and thankless task of moderating a difficult and personally stressful discussion. Amy, thanks for your writing. Everyone else who hasn’t been vile, thank you for taking the time.

    And now this bird is going to fly away.

  537. Amy Says:

    Shmi #529, I’d actually take it further than this:

    “it is wrong to attack those who are already depressed because they hate a big part of themselves they are unable to change, and Scott_171, as well as many other shy nerds (among other groups) are some of those people.”

    and say that it’s wrong to attack those who are already depressed full stop. (Who cares what the reason is?) There’s a problem, though, and the problem’s that sometimes a depressed person is also harming other people, who may be unable to get out of the situation without either attacking the person or doing things that he’ll read as an attack. There’s no guarantee that the depressed person can see what he’s doing or that he’s willing to entertain the notion that, you know, really, best to lay off, come back when feeling better, etc. On the contrary someone in a screwy and depressive frame of mind can become convinced that he’s actually the victim and that everyone’s against him, and dig in.

    I think the best you can hope for there is that the harm’s only going on in the workplace and that this person has a humane boss who just relieves him of that duty in some non-provoking way until he’s feeling better and able to see things more clearly. Unfortunately that’s not always how it goes.

  538. Mircea Says:

    Jumping in late.

    I think that for high-scrupulosity youth, the world is simply riddled with ‘traps’. High-scrupulosity women (and men) might twist themselves into guilt-ridden pretzels over social justice stuff like cultural appropriation, definitely. Other candidates: climate change, workers’ rights, biodiversity. My mother often reminds me that I was feeling guilty about the extinction of the dinosaurs when I was three years old, so I get the impulse.

    But it’s not just social justice stuff that triggers all of this. It’s not for nothing that scrupulosity is originally linked with religion.

    For me, a big soul-destroying thing was the idea that a woman must be sexually and emotionally available to her man at all times so he doesn’t stray and so he feels properly loved. ‘Withholding’ sex is evil and selfish and makes you the worst person ever, and besides, women can just spread their legs, right? How hard can it be? Men NEED to be aroused to have sex, but for women, lying back and thinking of England is a solution without drawbacks. (Ahem.) I was a feminist and an atheist to begin with, but that didn’t protect me.

    It’s not exactly analogous to Scott’s #171, since his scrupulosity-fueled ideas kept him from being in a relationship while mine kept me from being happy and even healthy in a relationship (that idea messed up my sleep pattern, academic performance and ladybits for YEARS, courtesy of a guy who’d come to bed in the middle of the night and only then realize he had a sex drive, preferably if I had class first thing in the morning while he didn’t have any commitments, and who just didn’t want to communicate about this or change his habits). Plenty of my (feminist, atheist) friends report similar stories, or stories of staying with men even if they were desperately unhappy, fueled by scrupulosity and the social pressure to not be a rejecting bitch, a target with ever-changing goalposts if there ever was one.

    The feminist ‘pressure’ that women should be allowed to be strong and independent and not be harassed is really high, but it’s definitely a counterpressure to very mainstream ideas of women’s economic (cf. Amy) and social positions.

    On the other hand, another scrupulosity-based delusion of mine was that I was just horribly wrong and broken and nobody would ever love me (because I was sooo aware of all the ways I didn’t live up to society’s standards and my own) and that I should hide my feelings about that from everyone (because a horrible person like me didn’t deserve to take up other people’s processing time). Way less complicated and theory-bound, which meant it was the easier thing to get a grip on and get over.

    How to fix these woes? I don’t know. The idea that people should be able to navigate life without harassment and prejudice is a morally good idea. Workers’ rights and protecting the environment are morally good ideas. Being open and loving to your partner and caring about their happiness is a morally good idea.

    I’m tempted to think of this as a nascent mental health awareness issue. Mental health privilege is definitely a thing. Some interesting ideas about parenting were raised upthread, and perhaps it’d help if teachers and other caregivers were on the lookout for kids that were freezing themselves into immobility. On the other hand, many of these stories have a component of ‘and I made sure nobody knew about this,’ which makes it exponentially more difficult to detect.

  539. DHW Says:

    M. #530: I will certainly agree that Jezebel and Gawker are not “primary sources of modern feminist thought.” I’d go so far as to say that Jezebel and Gawker are anti-thought. But the problem is, Jezebel and Gawker are the ones that get wide distribution and mass social media sharing, and turn their horrible writers into celebrities and public intellectuals, and get their horrible, destructive version of feminism into public opinion. Not your primary sources.

    If all scientific journals upheld the most rigorous standards of integrity and discipline, while Popular Mechanics started publishing articles about how Earth is six thousand years old, the moon landing was faked, and vaccines cause autism, I think you’d agree that even though Popular Mechanics is no “primary source” there’s still a real problem here.

  540. Amy Says:

    Mircea #538, I agree. It’s also difficult to imagine the particular craziness your child’s engaging in unless there’s some outward display just because…who would think of these things unless they’d been through it themselves in some nearby way? Also, frankly, even if you can see what’s going on, if you’re talking about young adults, there’s a limit to what you can do.

    Anon #534, unfortunately many of those problems also apply to partnered mothers (less often to single fathers). When two married parents work, the work of scouting and arranging childcare is still usually left to the woman, even though it benefits them both. Sometimes the man is explicit about that: I used to know a neuroscientist, younger than me, who was “allowed” to keep her research job so long as her husband never had to bother with childcare and dinner was on the table. Lower-income women often stop working altogether for several years because their wages won’t cover daycare, or won’t pay much over its cost, and then they’re completely dependent on the man; when they do head back to work they get “mom jobs” (retail, childcare, etc.) that pay low hourly wages, but are taxed at the man’s higher rate. They have to fight their way back to salaried work when the kids are grown, and they don’t recover the salary trajectory. It’s not as though they don’t need real salaries and benefits: there are reasons why the average family carries so much debt. And many a mother stays in a bad, even abusive, marriage only because she’s trapped. She knows that if she leaves, she won’t be able to support her children, not after being out of the workforce for a while, and not with the children to care for.

    (They’re in a bind in another way, too. As a single mom, I can say “I have to work” and make it stick. I don’t have to negotiate work hours with a husband, and in mom-communities, I’m issued a pass; I don’t have to contribute as much as others do. Show up for things, volunteer. But married, mostly-off-career-paths mothers trying to fix their earning-power problem so they can leave bad marriages…they’ve got a problem. They’re really not supposed to be visibly serious about their goal, and it can’t interfere with the mom job. It’s stressful just to watch.)

    The difference state services make, btw: I had an Icelandic friend whose husband was doing a medical residency; she was a nurse. After two years of smiling American housewifery she’d had it and decided she was taking the children and going home and back to work, and he could follow when he pleased. Why she could do that: high-quality public daycare available to all and jobs structured in ways that permit family-having. I don’t expect to see those things in this country. Certainly her husband’s residency here would not have allowed him to look after three young children.

    There’s also a career-path-divergence that’s difficult to fight: when the man is the higher earner before children come along, there’s tremendous pressure for the woman to sacrifice her own work in order to protect the man’s job. The man also comes in for pressure at work: why does he have to pick up the kids from daycare when he has something important to do? Can’t his wife do that? And if neither of them is doing that — if they’ve hired it out — it’s again usually the wife who scouts, interviews, hires, and manages the household staff, and that’s work that takes time to do. Regardless of income level, it usually falls to the woman to build and maintain the children’s social worlds — the mothers, far more often than the fathers, arrange the activities, meet other parents (again usually mothers), maintain friendships, know who the children’s friends are, keep track of all the medical and dental stuff, maintain ties to family, buy the presents, hostess, etc. (Not to mention handling the arguments that erupt when a feminist-in-theory husband discovers that childcare-sharing is actually hurting his career, freaks, and tries to shove his wife into shoulding more of the burden, even though she’s got just as many career obligations as he has.) This stuff takes time, and it doesn’t stop.

    Single custodial fathers tend to face different problems than single moms do. There’s often tremendous isolation. But they’re viewed as heroes, rather than, well, parasitic sluts ruining America. Their jobs tend to pay better than single mothers’ do, partly because they don’t face the “career mom” stigma that women do: it’s expected that they’ll find people to fill the mom role (or that someone will simply rescue them) while they handle the breadwinner role, especially if they have daughters. Single noncustodial dads aren’t much different from single childless men when it comes to work arrangements, and they may not even be liable for daycare costs.

    Essentially, whether a (straight) mother is married or not, there’s very strong bias in favor of her being the main parent, the real parent, and bias against her making a living, let alone a career. If she’s a woman who’s not a mother, and she’s a young woman, it’s assumed she’ll have children eventually and retreat from the workforce at least to some extent. If she’s an *older* woman, then unless she walks in swinging brass balls, it’s presumed she’s got a husband pulling the money wagon. Of course, if she does walk in swinging brass balls, people have choice things to say about it. But there are reasons (dare I say structural ones) why genuinely two-career, egalitarian-breadwinner families are rare here.

    About reshaping harassment training: I had a chat with a friend today, and one of the things she reminded me of was that there’s another issue involved in the sexual-harassment seminars, a controlling one: these things are not run primarily for the benefit of the students. They’re run for the benefit of the institution; they provide legal cover, and they cost money. Effectiveness may be far less important than “students and employees participated in a training session.” The environment’s not what it was in the mid-90s.

  541. Bill Says:

    @Alethea #527 (again)

    I am still wondering about the possibility that women in STEM have some kind of “confidence gap”, to a greater degree on average than men.

    Of the qualities that were listed in the article about arXiv, in which women are said to perform less well than men, some are actually quite subtle social skills. Self-promotion can easily backfire, because it is hard to judge the boundary between confidence and arrogance.

    This takes us back to Scott’s original post, which was about his own lack of confidence and social skills in a different context while growing up.

    The support available or proposed for the women is rather more than for the men; while the insults, though not absent, are rather less. Perhaps the idea of helping women has a bit of a headstart?

    To the extent that sexism causes us to underestimate women’s ability and achievement, there is a real opportunity for a person of sound judgment to populate her research group or department with women whose potential has been underestimated elsewhere.

    I kicked myself when I realised that all along I knew of an example of this – but paradoxically in this case the leader was not a feminist, but an alpha male who liked to surround himself with highly intelligent women. Some of them have gone on to have very successful careers.

  542. Scott Says:

    M. #530:

      And if you could go back and tell your younger self something to make his time less painful, what would you tell yourself beyond “it gets better?”

    That’s an excellent question with a long answer—I’d have lots of specific advice for him (and not just, e.g., to invest in Google, or to prevent 9/11 🙂 ). Maybe I’ll make that the subject of another post sometime.

  543. Scott Says:

    Everyone: I’ve decided to close this thread by the end of today, once again because it’s taking too much of my time. So go ahead and post any final thoughts.

  544. Bill Says:

    @Mircea #538

    Yes, high scrupulosity should be a gift, but it easily becomes a burden.

    and I made sure nobody knew about this

    Absolutely. As a child I actively tried to prevent my parents or other adults from knowing too much. And that was a very sound instinct, because at 16 no child should be put in a chair in a clinic and asked “and how did you feel about that?” (it’s far healthier to do that voluntarily, and as an adult).

    Mental escape into the sciences was a much better outcome.

    @Scott #543

    Thank you for sharing, and for being such a considerate host. Thank you to the other commenters. I’ve learned from your contributions.

  545. Michael Bacon Says:


    Thanks for initiating and sticking with such a difficult and controversial, but ultimately important, post. You’ve shown much sincerity, intelligence, courage and patience.

    It’s virtually impossible to have a friendly but meaningful conversation about such hot-button issues on a blog where comments open to the public. Nevertheless, you’ve handled it with great aplomb.

    Thanks as well to the many honest and intelligent commentators.

    Now then, what do you think about the recent paper by the Martinis’ group: http://arxiv.org/abs/1411.7403

    It will be refreshing to get back to debates between you, Gil and others regarding the possibility for the scaling up of meaningful quantum computers.

    Anyway, thanks again.

  546. Scott Says:

    OK, one more comment. Thanks so much to all the readers who expressed concern about me—about my emotional state, my professional future, whatever—or who offered advice. Fortunately, while this hasn’t been the easiest week for me, I believe I’ll be fine.

    Most obviously, I have a wonderful, brilliant wife and a beautiful 2-year-old daughter, both of whom make me happier than I would’ve thought possible 15 years ago. Indeed, it’s precisely because I’m happy that I now feel able to speak openly about these issues—as it were, to revisit the prison-camp where I used to live, without fearing that I’m going to be thrown back in. The clearest evidence of how far I’ve come is that I can now handle online bullies shaming me at many times what would’ve once been my “lethal dose,” and yet still be OK. I’m even grateful to the bullies, in a way, for proving my point about the prevalence of nerd-shaming, while also confirming for me how much stronger I am now than I once was.

    Meanwhile, I’ve gotten explicit reassurance from higher-ups at MIT that as far as they’re concerned, I didn’t break any rules, just tried to converse publicly about some difficult and sensitive issues. Their main concern was whether I was holding up OK, given the campaign of online vilification.

    So I’d ask everyone: please direct your sympathy and advice not to me, but to all the teenage nerds for whom these problems are still a daily reality.

  547. Scott Says:

    Michael #545: That paper is awesome, a major step forward! I’m not an expert, but my experimentalist friends are pretty excited. It appears to be the first time that quantum error-correction was clearly, unambiguously used to preserve a logical qubit for a longer amount of time than the underlying physical qubits survived for—a milestone with obvious significance for someday building a scalable QC.

  548. Gil Kalai Says:

    Hi Michael (#546) & Scott, it looks we are in agreement here. As I already commented  on the cozy and  intimate discussion thread we have on my blog, the Martinis’s group paper represents an impressive progress!

  549. Anon Geek Guy Says:

    Mircea @ #538:

    I think that for high-scrupulosity youth, the world is simply riddled with ‘traps’. High-scrupulosity women (and men) might twist themselves into guilt-ridden pretzels over social justice stuff like cultural appropriation, definitely. Other candidates: climate change, workers’ rights, biodiversity. My mother often reminds me that I was feeling guilty about the extinction of the dinosaurs when I was three years old, so I get the impulse.

    …For me, a big soul-destroying thing was the idea that a woman must be sexually and emotionally available to her man at all times so he doesn’t stray and so he feels properly loved.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences (and yeah, that sucks). Looking at both your example and Scott’s, I agree that there might be a “nascent mental health awareness issue” here, as you put it. And it’s certainly not specific to young geek guys—young women are also confronted with a load of difficult, conflicting demands, and many of them are related to gender roles.

    Let’s see if I can put my hypothesis in a nutshell:

    The heavy and indiscriminate use of shame, and especially internet-scale public shame, is deeply problematical for people who are dealing with social anxiety, scrupulosity and/or PTSD.

    Now, to be clear, I’m not universally against public shaming. It seems like a proportional response if the target is a well-protected, high-profile harasser. But I also think there needs to be some sense of proportionality and context. It’s sort of analogous to what I suggested to geek guys upthread:

    Before asking a woman out, ask yourself, “How many guys have asked her out in similar situations recently?” If the answer is “probably a fuckton”, then it’s probably not the best time, you know?

    I would suggest that a similar rule should be applied to internet pile-ons: Before joining a pile-on, ask yourself, “How many people have already said that X is a terrible person who should be deeply ashamed of themselves?” If the answer is, “Hundreds,” and the original offense was an isolated dumb remark, then maybe it’s not the best time. Context matters.

    One person whom I’ve seen handle this very well is actually Ampersand—he’s perfectly happy to call people out for shitty or thoughtless behavior, but I’ve also seen him say, “OK, the point’s been made, and we don’t need to keep attacking person X.”

    Or to put it another way: The heavy use of shame, and especially disproportionate public shame, might be triggering for people who are already dealing with social anxiety. A complete rejection of any form of “tone policing” may involve some degree of mental health privilege.

    When doing social justice work, I think it would be a good idea to listen carefully to people who deal with things like social anxiety, scrupulosity and PTSD, and take their feedback into account.

    To revisit Amy’s remarks @ #490:

    One, how many Scotts are we talking about (not an insignificant number, if you listen to all the “me too”s popping up here and elsewhere), what proportion of “public” in “public outreach” do they constitute (still probably pretty small), and, given the constraints of public outreach and policy work, is it possible to work some ameliorating message in without undercutting the main message, and, if so, is it worth doing in terms of outreach’s own measures.

    To put things in the modern jargon, I strongly suspect there’s an actual intersectionality issue here, and it affects more than shy, well-intentioned geek guys. I bet there’s a lot of people like Mircea out there who’ve run into other manifestations of this, and some manifestations are either classic feminist issues, or things which disproportionately affect young women.

    And if we make an effort to listen to the affected people, it may have widespread benefits—curb cuts famously help a lot of people who aren’t in wheelchairs, and being more careful about the uses of shame might help people who aren’t dealing with social anxiety disorder.

  550. Ampersand Says:

    Anon Geek Guy: Aw, thanks. I appreciate that.

    Amy and Anon Geek Guy: If you’re ever interested in guest-posting on my blog, please let me know.

    Interested Reader: I’m sorry that I may not have time to respond to your recent queries to me before the curtain falls on this thread. If you’re interested in continuing our discussion, I’d be happy to set up a thread for it on my own blog. And in any case, thank you very much for the exchange.

    Scott: Thank you SO much for hosting this very interesting discussion, and for being so open and having the courage to tell your story. I know we disagree, but I see a lot to admire in you. (If you enjoy comic books, I hope you’ll look up my “Hereville” books sometime.) Thanks again.

  551. Anon Geek Guy Says:

    OK, one last thought to wrap up a very interesting discussion, and to offer a few specific proposals about the kind of outreach work Amy discussed in #490. And a huge thank you to Scott for hosting this discussion.

    If we look at the problems described by Scott (straight male shame over sexual desire) and those described by Mircea (female shame about sexual obligation), it might actually be feasible to address both sorts by signal-boosting existing discussions of desire and consent.

    Critically, this involves not only important negative messages such as “Rape, stalking, harassment and sexual pressure are not OK,” but also positive messages like, “It’s OK to desire things, even some pretty far out things, as long as they take place between truly consenting adults.”

    I know that, as a shy and socially clueless male nerd, I benefited hugely from discussions of desire and consent in the BDSM and LGBT communities that I knew at the time. And I needed both the positive examples and the negative ones. “Sure! Women can lust after each other and tie each other up and spank each other if that’s what makes them happy.” “You know, you can totally dump your boyfriend because he’s like ill-fitting pants, or simply because you want to. You get to establish your own boundaries and control your own life, and that doesn’t make you a bad person.”

    And once again, thank you to Scott and Amy and Ampersand and Deborah and Chelsey and pb and Mircea—and everybody else—for a really interesting discussion.

  552. pb Says:

    @Bill, you never followed up on institutional sexism. I also get the sense that you think that the confidence gap in women is genetic, and not caused by outside sources.