Before you read this post, read this.
Let’s put the comment into context, first. Few of the other commenter’s on Dr. Aaronsen’s comment take it in the context of the full conversation, so let me attempt to outline this one. There was an MIT professor, a Prof. Lewin, who committed sexual harassment. Well, was alleged, I don’t know the details, and that’s not the point. The criminal defense attorney in me makes me qualify that, is all. For purposes of this blog, we’re going to assume that Prof. Lewin was the most atrociously horrendous dirty old man who ever existed.
MIT, in response, stripped Prof. Lewin of his emeritus status and removed his videos from their OpenCourseWare site.
Dr. Aaronsen commented thusly: I do not care if Prof. Lewin is evil. He was an amazing teacher of physics. Those videos are very good at instructing physics students. Removing them punishes the students of MIT far more than it does Prof. Lewin. Therefore, MIT should keep the videos.
This, of course, provoked a tizzy, and Dr. Aaronsen was accused of supporting sexual harassment. One particularly vocal commenter, an “Amy,” commented:
Do you have any regular readers who are women? I scrolled through over 50 comments before seeing a woman’s name.
Why do you figure that is?
Dr. Aaronsen, in an effort to expand the discussion, took that not as the barbed rhetorical question it was, but rather as a genuine invite to open dialogue. He responded, speaking of the problems women face getting into the STEM communities, and linking to an article about the failure of STEM classes to incorporate women more broadly, and the possible reasons why. He also stated that he wasn’t trying to support Professor Lewin, but rather didn’t want the things Prof. Lewin had contributed to the students of MIT to go to waste.
What he received in response was more vitriol:
Also, you want credit for not being a supporter of keeping sexual harassers on payroll? Okay, but only if you’re going to give me credit for not being a supporter of brain tumors. I think I agree with the “baseline” comment above. Seriously, this is the kind of thinking that leads to divorces, where a guy wants applause for doing some (though not nearly half) of the house/kid-related work. I mean think about what you’re asking.
Dr. Aaronsen then posted the comment I linked to above, which he has since added clarification for. I get what he’s going for, and he’s giving a very personal account, but it is a personal account from a very narrow perspective, so it hasn’t necessarily gone over well.
Now, as always, the battle lines appear to be drawn between nerds and feminists over whether or not the complaints of one invalidate the complaints of the other. This is, to me, such a weird battle that I feel obliged to offer the larger perspective. To do that, I’m going to thumbnail the two sides of the argument for us:
The perspective of aggressive nerds:
We’ve grown up in a culture that tells us our geekish ways are not sexually appealing. We’ve further grown up watching men who were (a) stupid and (b) aggressive, receive a great deal of attention from women, while we have simmered in our own futile sexual rage. While we do not, on the whole, believe that this justifies assaulting women, the fact is that we, too, feel like victims. This feeling is intensified when the women who have rejected us sexually for our failure to be aggressive attack us for sexually harassing them. We can’t win in this situation, they’ve put us in a corner, so we’re just going to be aggressive, because at least that gives us an outlet for all that rage.
The perspective (as I, a white male understand it), of women:
We’re getting raped out there. The current culture that exists promotes aggression against women. There are a whole bunch of women who are physically victimized. We get that the nerds had it rough growing up, but boo-freaking-hoo. Get over it, because your current aggression is totally childish, and it contributes to our danger levels.
So, here’s the thing: Both of these perspectives are inherently logical. I understand both of them. They make sense.
The nerd perspective is one of inherent depression, lack of self-esteem, and immaturity, but it makes sense. I get why it exists. The more one is accused of contributing to sexual assault when one doesn’t even try to get laid for lack of self esteem, the more resentful one is likely to become.
The feminist perspective is one wherein the crimes of the few are attributable to the culture of the many, painting as many people as responsible for sexual assault as they can, and it makes sense. The more people feel guilty for sexual assault, the more change there will be.
So where, Frog, is that broader perspective you promised? Here it is:
At heart, down deep at its very root, the complaint of the feminist and the complaint of the nerd are the exact same.
Take a moment, because that statement probably pissed off just about everyone who read it. Count to ten, then read on so I can justify myself to you.
The nerd complaint is based on a culture that elevates aggression to attraction. We see, time and time again in the media, that “getting the girl” is a function of being the man of action, not science. Confidence is one of the number-one factors in attracting a woman, a confidence most nerds have been taught not to have, because chicks just don’t dig nerds, right? Men should pursue women, and if you don’t have the skills to do that, then don’t bother. After all, any woman who would pursue a man is a slut, right?
Women are indoctrinated into this same culture, and as a result are, in fact, initially attracted to aggressive bozos more than quiet, bookish types. After all, why can’t he just “be a man?” In my years as a divorce and domestic violence attorney, I see this pattern repeat itself over and over again.
The result of this culture? Well, let me point you to one of the great all-time nerd movies: Revenge of the Nerds. Remember this? 1980s flick, basically the first piece of media to ever celebrate being an awkward headcase. I loved this movie growing up. And at the end of the movie, our hero Lewis finally gets the cheerleader instead of the jock. Romantic, right? Do you remember how it happens?
He fucking rapes her.
That’s right. He puts on a mask, pretends to be her boyfriend, and has sex with her. She doesn’t know she’s boning him. Do that in real life? Rape. But it’s fine, in the movie, because she likes it. She likes being raped so much that she actually leaves that loser of a boyfriend and follows our hero, the nerd-rapist. Why? Because the way to get the girl is to be aggressive. Sack up, nerd boy.
The nerd complaint, at its essence, is that finding a romantic and sexual output is impossible in a culture that (even while celebrating nerds) tells us that no woman should ever go for the quiet guy in the corner reading a D&D manual. The women should go for the guys who take what they want.
The feminist complaint is based on a culture that justifies aggression with attraction. There is a culture, perpetuated by men and women alike, in which men are trained to be aggressive in order to find sexual output. This culture also perceives women as being attracted to such aggression, which in turn justifies the aggression itself.
Is this sounding familiar? It should.
The problem, boiled down, for both parties is that we live in a culture that largely says attraction=aggression. Nerds tell us they feel victimized cause they’re really shitty at being aggressive. Women tell us they’ve victimized because men keep being aggressive. We’ve got the same problem here, people.
But don’t take my word for it! Let’s look to various dating advice sites:
Here’s a great article about what women should be looking for. Let’s see if it says anything that nerds and feminists could unite against?
No woman wants a physical weakling – it’s against her nature. That doesn’t mean she won’t settle for slightly less than Herculean, but you’re a man dammit. She wants to feel that when she’s in your presence. She wants you to be intelligent and to practice self-control simply because you can.
We’re all still animals and women will always be attracted to the stronger men. She wants you to be strong not for the sake of being strong – she wants you to be strong for her. It brings her pleasure, makes her feel safe and turns her on. Do you honestly need more convincing?
How about WikiHow? Surely a wiki site will give us better insite!
Be a guy who is in power.
Shit, ok. Let’s get more scientific, then. Psychology Today, come to the rescue!
During peak levels of fertility, they prefer more masculine and socially dominant men. In the literature these men are known as “cads.” Indeed, they tend to be sexy, with their narrow eyes and strong jaws — but they also tend to be flashy and exploitative of others. Even worse, these masculine men often embody the Dark Triad, a personality constellation that encompasses Machiavellianism, psycopathy, and narcissism. Typically, these men offer only short-term prospects.
Holy fuckballs. Even you, Psychology Today? Even you?
The fact of the matter is, this trend right here? It’s the thing pissing off nerds. Now, nerds fuck up when they blame women for it, and they fuck up again when they then nerdrage at women over it.
It’s not the fault of women that our culture does this indoctrination. It’s not their fault that they were taught, since birth, that Prince Charming is the dude that slays the dragon, not really the dude who tallies the treasury with an abacus. It is not, in short, their fault you can’t get laid. That’s on our basic societal upbringing combined with your lack of maturity.
Women see these sexually frustrated and emotionally immature nerds and, instead of agreeing with their frustration at the underlying mechanisms of sexual aggression, they react only to the juvenile behavior that results from the frustration.
What’s the solution? Well, it’s twofold. My instructions proceed thusly:
1. Nerds: Shut the Fuck Up. Seriously. This whole rage thing? It brings you no closer to actually getting laid, which means it’s a self-replicating problem. A Von Neumman machine of virginity. As soon as you calm down and sign up for an online dating service, you’ll do a hell of a lot better. Those feminists you hate are actually crusading for a culture that will make you more attractive on the whole, not less, so if you’re not joining with them then at least get the hell out of the way. Also, good news: eventually, when your hormones calm down and your checkbook fattens, you are going to be more attractive than the jock, who’s going to either (a) become a nerd, or (b) down a 12-pack of Coors Light a day working the night shift at the fast food joint and inappropriately hitting on high-school girls.
2. Women: I see a lot of targeting at the big problems, but the more insidious, underlying mechanisms of sex and aggression are a more complicated problem. The cultural shift you’re looking for should not only empower women (which it should), but it needs to disempower sexual aggressiveness. Beating up the nerd may no longer be code for getting the girl. Because if it is, that same aggressive trait that led the jock to wail on the nerd is going to tell him to wail on the girl, eventually. We need a way to let both boys and girls that the guy with the abacus is actually much, much sexier. How do we do that? No idea. But solve that problem, and we’ve united both of these factions against the true enemy: douchebags.