I’ve just encountered the big debates around the experiences of Scott Anderson. Currently an esteemed, and happily married, computer science professor, he spent school years as an unhappy nerd. A big part of that was that he was.. not even rejected by girls, but rather, ashamed to ask them out for fear of being labeled a monster.
He mentioned feminism as a cause for such labeling, and mentioned reading Andrea Dworkin (and I suspect his list would also include McKinnon etc).
He got loads of flak for loads of things, many of those patently untrue. His response at http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2119 (and yes I am hoping for a trackback) seems to have caused more waves. Some people made him out to be a misogynist, conflated his statement with the “nice guy fallacy” despite key factual differences (“Nice Guys TM” claim they are rejected while Scott was ashamed to ask to start with), and there were a lot of other things. There was also a generally awesome response by Laurie Penny, and they apparently agreed to work together.
But I still think something here is missed. And given that Scott is a professor I think I should mention it – if only because it might ultimately help with that advice post he seems to be still working on with Laurie.
WARNING: the following text is PERSONAL OPINION based on LIMITED information FROM INTERNET POSTINGS. This is in NO WAY a complete analysis and VERY WELL can miss facts. I’m only writing about it because I feel it’s a seriously dangerous intellectual “trap”.
I feel that young!Scott may have contributed to ruining his personal life at school by something that professor!Scott would probably be horrified with if he saw it from the outside. Academic bias, of all things!
He admits that he was “drawn” to the likes of Andrea Dworkin. But these are not toys we’re talking about, nor political journalists where you go pick a party and follow its pundits. This is research. And so the high school nerd has committed a nerdy mistake. He failed to read up on the opposing views.
There were, by the time, two coherent intellectual strands in opposition to Dworkin, and each would have provided its own pathways out of the impasse Scott had.
One was conservatism. Not the modern-day MRA radicals with their “game” and stuff – I think these were, thankfully, still not there – but good old conservatism with family values etc. It had an answer: that you just don’t “ask” for sex because sex outside of marriage is not a Good Thing. You get *yourself* ready for marriage while you also seek marriageable, as opposed to sex-able, female contacts. There are ways to do that. He mentioned the shtetl, but guess what – match-making still very much exists in Judaism. I am a Christian myself – of Jewish lineage but Christian by choice – separate discussion though; whatever religion he chose, he could have followed its arrangements to seek women interested in courtship towards marriage, while skipping the secular dating scene entirely. Or else one could just seek out friendship and companionship, with an outlook to “propose” the status of a “fiancee” (if not outright marriage) in *good* time – without bothering to compete with the “neanderthals” who want a quick bang. Wait with sex, all the way until marriage, because it’s the Right Thing To Do. I’m not sure if it would be less miserable (though it actually worked for me, more or less). But at least it was a different and coherent option.
The other strand opposing Dworkin was early feminist sex-positivism. Oh, the big feminist split, the world-shaking (well, America-shaking) censorship battles – I am rather baffled how one could research Dworkin and miss those. For the sex-positivists, consent was key. Their solution, as far as I can understand it, would be basically “ask but be ready to step back”. The “creepiness” is not the asking but the persistence. No means no, maybe means no. In words from a very different field (and apparently penned later, so not available to young!Scott), “fail early, fail often”. While “fail-readiness” might take some training it was still a coherent alternative. For the modern nerd, the obvious and funny similarity to Agile software development might be of help.
It appears – though I might very well be wrong – that young!Scott did not work out either of these pathways because he latched on to the Dworkin view without examining the alternatives. But Dworkin was writing in her own context. For many other people, mostly women, her words had, and still have, immense therapeutic meaning. And she did not set herself up to be The Only Voice.
She did try to push for a level of censorship, but not in the social sciences; so she never intended her works to be the only source of someone’s viewpoint. And it was not drummed into him at school, either.
Radical feminism, which I do NOT agree with, is still not to blame for someone choosing to read just its stuff and getting life lessons from it that it was just not designed to give. The radfems did not close the libraries to him. He should have checked the other viewpoints. And I am sure that Professor Scott would not make such a mistake when reading up on a subject these days. I hope he can advise new generations to be wider in their outlook.
And if Scott thinks he had it bad, he can just imagine – yeah, that argument again – someone transgender in his time and his situation with his reading preferences. If a transgender person made the same mistake of being drawn into collectivist radfem literature exclusively, suicide would have been a very likely outcome. They shamed Scott for any idea of asking girls out, but they would shame the transgender person for existing. (Not Dworkin herself but many of her colleagues).
TL;DR: Don’t choose to read just one academic strand in a relevant area of the social sciences. It will feck up your life. If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, unfortunately including your own head.