Monday, December 29, 2014

My Butthurt's Better Than Yours

I've generally tried to make a rule that I don't skewer the wee little targets of the feminist left. Bloggers with a couple dozen followers might have some amusing crazy to dissect (and sometimes, as with this Shakesville rant, give us insight into the pathologies behind radical feminism), but generally they aren't in a position of power to inflict their peculiarly disturbed plans on society at large. To that end, it's worth remembering that the worthy targets have shown some ability to navigate both law and bureaucracy, e.g. Russlyn Ali, or Zerlina Maxwell, or have achieved the highest goal possible for a feminist pundit, i.e. a sinecure in which she (and they are virtually always she's) gets paid for holding the right opinions.

By that measure, Laurie Penny succeeds. She first came to my attention thanks to a horrible column in New Statesman which laid out a case for a sort of original sin among men: even if an individual man is not sexist, because he is male, he actively benefits from the sexism of other men, and so conspires in the thefts of patriarchy, quod erat demonstrandum. Like a great deal of feminist dogma and all discussions of first principles, i.e. theology, it is unanswerable by any empirical means; one accepts it or not, and if not, risks being branded a heretic, i.e. sexist, the worst conceivable epithet.

So, to Penny's latest, which I first came into contact with via this tweet:
This amounts to skipping ahead, but her jumping-off point is a post by MIT professor Scott Aaronson, blogging on the sad case of colleague Walter Lewin, who made an untoward remark to a young woman, and summarily was made into a non-person by MIT in an egregious overreaction. Aaronson wrote in a comment (emboldening mine, yadda yadda):
Much as I try to understand other people’s perspectives, the first reference to my 'male privilege' — my privilege! — is approximately where I get off the train, because it’s so alien to my actual lived experience . . . I suspect the thought that being a nerdy male might not make me 'privileged' — that it might even have put me into one of society’s least privileged classes — is completely alien to your way of seeing things. I spent my formative years — basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s — feeling not 'entitled', not 'privileged', but terrified.
This, of course, amounts to fighting words to Penny, who can't stand to have her own victim status challenged. In the I'm-No-Communist-But sweepstakes, she opens a graf with the words, "I do not intend for a moment to minimise Aaronson's suffering" and then proceeds to this:
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.
Which is to say, she has a convenient theological answer for Aaronson's problems. Responsibility for actual bullying, if there was any, and for his own feelings of inadequacy, particularly interaction with the opposite sex, lie with an unseen conspiracy whose shadowy agents she need not name. In fact, she entirely does mean to minimize Aaronson's suffering, because his "powerfully honest, but also flawed" writing expressly rejects the absurd ghost story of feminism. Potential biological explanations, e.g. a person somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum and thus wholly clueless about social cues, as many individuals in STEM fields are, bear neither raising nor examination. But wait! There's more!
Women generally don't get to think of men as less than human, not because we're inherently better people, not because our magical feminine energy makes us more empathetic, but because patriarchy doesn't let us. We're really not allowed to just not consider men's feelings, or to suppose for an instant that a man's main or only relevance to us might be his prospects as a sexual partner. That's just not the way this culture expects us to think about men. Men get to be whole people at all times. Women get to be objects, or symbols, or alluring aliens whose responses you have to game to "get" what you want.
So someone is standing over you at all times telling you how inhuman men are? Who is this controlling freak? And why are you listening? (And of course, we won't get into the evolutionary and biological implications of why men might find many sexual partners desirable; that would certainly be too frightening.) In this telling, women utterly lack agency, volition, and even sense, and simply do as they're told by, well, whoever. It's not possible, as @facerealitynow demands, that Penny provide a scientific basis for her beliefs, for the simple reason that they aren't subject to even the weakest carbolic acid of skeptical analysis; it is enough to believe they are true. Science is for meanies, and the underrated virtue of resilience amounts to a sin.

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